Mariano Akerman: Artwork 1965-1988

I was born in Buenos Aires in 1963. When I was a little child, my aunt, Moroca, gave me my first informal art classes in her workshop, Pirouettes Studio.[1]

1 Moroca and Mariano, Taller Piruetas, Buenos Aires, 1965

She had a predilection for Surrealism and taught me the art of automatism and other procedures stimulating free association. A generous person, she shared her gouaches and brushes with me. Moroca had a good art library. She read in French (something pretty unusual in Buenos Aires in the mid-1960s). She also loved to sing after having had her siesta, and as I was working in the studio, she offered me a yogurt or glass of soda (the latter often with some paint in it too). Moroca encouraged me to explore art from the beginning, making efforts in telling me the story of art, and helping me to exhibit my work in Casa de la Pintura Argentina in 1984. She also contacted me with the owner of an art gallery in Belgrano, Mercedes Rodrigo, paving the way for my first solo exhibit at Galería RG en Arte in March 1986.[2] I remember myself interested in books since I was a little child. I had few of my own, except from an amazing, twenty-volume encyclopedia my mother had received on her ninth birthday. Its title of the encyclopedia was The Treasure of Youth.[3] As such volumes were all in my bedroom, I had direct access to them. My favorite images in them were those showing fabulous animals and Alice in Wonderland.

2 El Tesoro de la Juventud: Seres fabulosos (Fabulous Beings), U.S.A., 1947

3 El Tesoro de la Juventud: Alicia en el País de las Maravillas (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), U.S.A., 1947 I’ve made some drawings on the pages of my mother’s encyclopedia here and there.

4 Mariano Akerman, Patito (Duckling), 1969

I was also fond of drawing in another book, one with pictures as poignant as the ones in The Treasure of Youth. That book was Modern Art, a dictionary which was once given to my mother as a present.[4] I remember myself inspecting it while she was talking on the phone. One of the pictures in the dictionary, James Ensor’s Intrigue (1890), used to make me feel uncomfortable, but it was also so attractive that I couldn’t stop looking at it from time to time.[5] In 1967, I drew an automatism over The Intrigue, to express that was important to me and also to neutralize its grotesque masquerade.

5 Mariano Akerman, Automatismo (Automatism), 1967

Not much later, I considered a featureless sitter by Matisse to be unfinished and added all what I supposed she was longing for—eyes, nose, mouth, and eyebrows.[6]

6 Mariano Akerman, Corrección de una imagen incompleta (Correction of an Unfinished Picture), 1968

I always managed to have access to the Dictionary of Modern Painting, which was essential during my artistic formation and accompanies me even today. When I was eleven, in a school knowledge competition, I won a prize from Reader’s Digest.[7] It was a big book on The Strange, the Astonishing and the Most Extraordinary. This volume revealed me some secrets about cosmology and superstition, stimulating also my imagination. Another book I found most interesting was one on the work of the early Netherlandish painters.[8] There, I found the breathtaking imagery of Gérard David and the intriguing figures of Hieronymus Bosch.

7 Gérard David, Sisamnes’ Agony, 1498

8 Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1505-10

I felt fear and repulsion at the sight of David’s down-to-earth realism. The opposite effect had on me the poetry of Bosch and his inventiveness.[9] In the mid-1970s, I was unaware of the complex stories behind such images.[10] My perception and intuition were all I had as I regarded them. In these images I felt two irreconcilable forces operating. Somehow, I understood that the realism of David’s Agony of Sisamnes opposed the fantasy of Bosch’s Garden of Delights.

As a teenager, once per week I had breakfast with my grandfather in a cafeteria not far from home. On my way to school, he used to buy me the weekly supplement of The Student’s Salvat Encyclopedia, which was both informative and rich in illustrations.

9 Enciclopedia Salvat del Estudiante: Trayectoria solar (Solar Trajectory), Barcelona, 1976

Moroca was also generous and often borrowed me her art manuals. Among the books she provided me with, there was a moving biography of Michelangelo, Julio Payró’s Modern Painting, and Scott’s Design Fundamentals.[11] All of them have proved to be useful and educative. Unexpected were the stimulating methods of Prof. Iglesias, my art teacher in 1979. She was known for encouraging self-expression in a period of repression (1976-83). On one occasion, she arrived with some art reproductions and asked each student to pick out one that interested him to later remake it as he wished. I chose François Gérard’s Psyche receiving the First Kiss of Eros, for I saw certain tenderness in it.[12] I kept the pose of Gérard’s figures, representing them in surreal terms. The result was a picture called Nada de bésame mucho (Nothing of kissing me a lot).[13] It was opportunely exhibited—and complemented—in the Ministry of Education.

10 Mariano Akerman, Nada de bésame mucho (Nothing of Kissing Me a Lot), 1979

That exercise provided me with a new opportunity to exercise my imagination. By the time I was still trying to find “my way” to remake Gérard’s image, I bought an amazing imported book, Surrealism.[14] This was in English and I could understood little of it then. However, it was the visual imagery in the book that I found extraordinary. Magritte, Dalí, Miró, Ernst, Tanguy, and many others were included in my new acquisition. At home, everyone was shocked (or maybe pretended to be so), but I was on cloud nine.
In the summer of 1979, I participated in a competition for young artists and I won a prize. It was in Punta del Este (Uruguay) and I remember myself arriving at the place where my father played tennis, the Cantegril Country Club, with the desire of creating something, with just a sheet of paper and little box containing no more than six ordinary color pencils—all I could afford with my money then. Once there, however, I met a nice girl who let me use her splendid, seventy-two water-soluble color pencils as much as I wished. A Visit to the House of My Aunt Moroca, my prized picture, was of course surreal.[15] And so was another gouache of mine fusing abstraction and the imaginary, Rococo Soirée in the House of a Medieval Princess, which was painted and awarded in the end of 1980.[16]

11 Mariano Akerman, Velada rococó en casa de una princesa medieval (Rococo Soirée in the House of a Medieval Princess), 1979 The forms and colors of my gouache may show a subliminal influence of Tanguy’s Sun in its Shrine (1937).[17]

12 Yves Tanguy, El sol en su santuario (The Sun in Its Shrine), 1937

Other works of the early 1980s were inspired by tales, to which I added much of my own.

13 Mariano Akerman, Así están las cosas (Things are Like This), 1981

14 Mariano Akerman, Renacimiento (Being Born Once Again), 1981

15 Mariano Akerman, Flor con ritmo (Flower with Rhythm), 1981

Once, when I was fifteen (1978), my grandfather had introduced me to a certain Bernardo Graiver. He was an art critic. In that meeting, after having had a look at my works, he told me, “Son, you were born a painter, but you cannot live from art.” By 1986, unexpectedly, his discourse changed:

A profound aesthetic sense and art that, playing with the material, vibrates in one’s spirit constitute the visual language of Mariano Akerman. He distances himself from banal preoccupations, suggesting and evoking not disorderly experiences, but unexpected ones—those that belong to the empiric-meditative creator. The cult of the line taken from Nature establishes the division of the plane and deconstructs the mass. Submarine jungles of arched stems and smooth leafs, beings that sing with a growing audacity, and warm soft organisms awake in an ample harmony of composition. In a world of constant exploration, his spiritual curiosity produces true symbols of life.[18]

My first solo show at Galería RG en Arte, Fiber Transformations and Sweet Tales (May 1986) included a remarkable work entitled Crystalline, First Movement and other works such as Couple, Space Activation, and Beauty and the Beast.

16 Mariano Akerman, Cristalino, Primer Movimiento (Crystalline, First Movement), 1985-86

17 Mariano Akerman, Pareja (Couple), 1986; 18 Mariano Akerman, Activar el espacio (Space Activation), 1986

19 Mariano Akerman, La bella y la bestia (Beauty and the Beast), 1985-86

In an article entitled “Mariano Akerman: A Vital Message” and published in the magazine Actuality in Art in May 1986, Monique Sasegur observed that "A first approach to the pictures reveals a draftsman who dominates line, color and space sure of what he wants. If we look for a formal structure, this is evident. But, there is also a strong thematic basis: the work of this artist has an interesting vital message. Here, the simple does not exclude the profound. The undulating forms of the natural, the vegetable, theanimal, and the excellence of the human figure, which sometimes adopts the form of other living beings […, all of them confirm this idea]. Akerman’s theoretical formation rests on his architectural career; the rest is lived experience which he incorporates into his work. Technique requirements lead him to an attitude at once refined and irreverent. Gouache, markers, color pencils, collage, ink, and all the architectural tools reach the desired effects.One of the aims is the active response of the spectator who can only participate in the art game if adding a personal dose of imagination and fantasy. In this way, the picaresque eyes of the personages meet those of the witness, who must distinguish figure from background. But, do they actually merge? Too oriental or too decorative? One would say ornamental, expressive, and powerfully hoped.
With a scholarship at the Universidad de Belgrano, two international awards and local prizes, Mariano Akerman advances in a path of textures, curves, and limited planes yet linked to each other thanks to those critical points that give tension and dynamism to his artwork."[19]

20 Monique Sasegur, “Mariano Akerman: Un Mensaje Vital” (A Vital Message), La Actualidad en el Arte, Buenos Aires, May-June 1986, p. 58

Other works exhibited during that first solo show were The Helpless’ Carnival, Fiber Mutations, The Challenge, To Life, and I am fine, You are fine.

21 Mariano Akerman, El carnaval de los desamparados (Helpless’ Carnival), 1985; 22 Mariano Akerman, Mutaciones de fibras (Fibers Mutations), 1985-86

23 Mariano Akerman, El desafío (The Challenge), 1986; 24 Mariano Akerman, Por la vida (To Life), 1986; 25 Mariano Akerman, Yo estoy bien, tú estás bien (I’m Fine, You’re Fine), 1986

My second solo exhibit took place in the University of Belgrano in September 1988.20 It was named “Of Shell and Content” and its motto was “Shell enables imagining richness; content is rich itself.”[21] The French Bank (Banco Francés del Río de la Plata) made possible the publication of a thousand prints of Temple of Inclusion, which were given to all visitors during the opening of the show.

26 Mariano Akerman, UB Exhibition Poster, July-August 1988 The exhibit comprised some of my architectural studies and a series of watercolors. Among the favorite ones there were pencil versions of Temple of Inclusion and The Incomplete, and a number of watercolors, such as Pioneers, Florencia’s Perfume, For the Pink Sings, Irreducible like Water, Awareness (portraying a young Moses, reminiscent of Moroca’s David of 1977), Not to Make Up Any More Corpses, Ornament and Little Kiss, Morris the Cool, and a drawing entitled Of the Importance of the Authentic.[22]

27 Mariano Akerman, La Incompleta (The Incomplete), 1986-88

28 Mariano Akerman, Templo de Inclusión (Inclusion Temple), 1988

29 Mariano Akerman, Porque el clavel canta (For the Pink Sings), 1988; 30 Mariano Akerman, Pioneros (Pioneers), 1988; 31 Mariano Akerman, Perfume de Florencia (Florencia’s Perfume), 1988

32 Mariano Akerman, Irreductibles como el agua (Irreducible like Water), 1988

33 Moroca, David, 1977

34 Mariano Akerman, Darse cuenta (Awareness), 1988

35 Mariano Akerman, Ornamento y besito (Ornament and Little Kiss), 1988; 36 Mariano Akerman, Para no maquillar más cadáveres (Not to Make Up Any More Corpses), 1988

37 Mariano Akerman, Morris el Fresco (Morris the Cool), 1988

38 Mariano Akerman, De la importancia de lo Auténtico (Of the Importante of the Authentic), 1988

The words of André Maurois were quoted in the exhibition catalog, “Art gives the spirit what the world denies it: the union of contemplation and peace.”[23]

This idea was followed by some lines Prof. René Olivieri dedicated to my work: Unusual voluptuousness, unfathomable, to enjoy with fulfillment, hermetic magic,powerful will in the remaking of form, the dreamlike enigmas demand an active participation of the spectator, but its fruit is worth:it is beauty itself,unfolding in an exuberant flowering.[24]

1. The name of Moroca’s workshop was “Piruetas,” which was a playful allusion to what students were supposed to get in order to fulfill my aunt’s artistic requirements.
2. Cartelera de galerías de arte, no. 9, Buenos Aires, May 1986; La Nación, Buenos Aires, 3 May 1986, sect. 2, p. 7: “Galería RG en Arte.”
3. The original title of the encyclopedia was El Tesoro de la Juventud, U.S.A., c. 1947.
4. Diccionario de arte moderno, published by Editorial Kapelusz (Buenos Aires).
5. Ensor’s picture is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.
6. Painted in 1947, Matisse’s original English Girl belongs to a private collection.
7. This event was known as Justa del saber, meaning “KnowledgeCompetition.”
8. Robert Genaille, La Peinture dans les Anciens Pays-Bas de Van Eyck à Bruegel, Paris: Pierre Tisné, 1954.
9. David’s image is the right-hand panel of a diptych in Groeninge Museum, Bruges; Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is the central panel of the homonym triptych in Museo del Prado, Madrid, where is known as “El Jardín de las Delicias.”
10. In David’s case, for example, I saw brutality and suffering, but had no idea his image was supposed to represent an “exemplar punishment” (exemplum iustitiae). In Bosch’s case, I found his paradisaical garden pleasant, although I didn’t relate it to the ideas of sin and hell.
11. All the books Moroca gave me were in Spanish: Julio Payró, Pintura Moderna; Robert William Scott, Fundamentos del Diseño.
12. Gérard’s neoclassical masterpiece is kept in the Louvre, Paris.
13. Mine was a play of words with the title of a well-known bolero, Bésame mucho (Kiss me a lot).
14. Uwe M. Schneede, Surrealism, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973.
15. The prize I received was an impressive box containing forty-eight water-soluble pencils, all made in Switzerland.
16. Letter, Alberto Bilezker to Mariano Akerman, Buenos Aires, 26 November 1980.
17. Tanguy’s Sun in its Shrine is reproduced in Surrealism. I was unaware of the possible influence of the visual source while painting Rococo Soirée. Sometimes referred to as “The Sun in Its Jewel-case” or “The Sun in Its Splendor,” Tanguy’s painting is in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection,Venice.
18. Graiver, quoted in Buenos Aires, Galería RG en el Arte, Mariano Akerman: Transformaciones de fibras y cuentos dulces, 8-21 May 1986.
19. Monique Sasegur, “Mariano Akerman: Un mensaje vital,” La actualidad en el arte, Year X, No. 48, May-June 1986, p. 58.
20. La Nación, 10 September 1988: “Bellas Artes;” Ámbito Financiero, 16 September 1988: “Homini en la ciudad.”
21. Ciudad de Belgrano, August 1988: “Muestras de Arte UB;” Clarín, 16 September 1988: “Muestras;” La Nación, 16 September 1988, sect. 3, p. 12.
22. Ornament and Kiss was my response to the words of Adolf Loos in his 1908 manifesto entitled “Ornament und Verbrechen” (Ornament and Crime). According to Loos, “The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects. […] Ornament inflicts a serious injury on people’s health, on the national budget and hence on cultural evolution. […] Modern ornament has no parents and no progeny, no past and no future.” Reading his words in a postmodern context, I thought Loos was insane. However, I liked his claim that “All art is erotic.”
23. La conducción en la vida: carta abierta a un joven (Open Letter to a Young Man).
24. Buenos Aires, Universidad de Belgrano, Facultad de Estudios para Graduados, Mariano Akerman: De cáscara y contenido, 16-30 September 1988.


Hands of Tissue said...

Thumbs Up!

Mundt said...

Especially #14 Renacimiento (Being Born Once Again).

Nico said...

Muy buenos tus trabajos, la verdad me parecen muy buenos. Un abrazo grande.

M.H.T. said...


NCL said...

Hola Mariano: las obras exhibidas son buenísimas. Además de ser bueno el contenido y demostrativo de tu trayectoria, me gusta cómo está armado. Te mando un beso grande. Mamá.