World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 38 – Nicole Carvajal
Nicole Carvajal lives in the Merenwijk in Leiden. She has been an artist for 36 years and is, originally, from Chile. This is reflected in her work. It is not a flat realism, you see scenes with more meanings. Nicole Carvajal: ‘In this respect I belong rather to Belgium than the Netherlands.’
Nicole Carvajal is always looking for images from past and present. A major source is the history of art. The Milkmaid by Vermeer, Japanese prints or a landscape of De Chirico, they are sources of inspiration. She refers in her compositions to seventeenth-century masters as Gerard Dou, the fine painter. Many of her paintings – as is the case with Dou - are windows. You can see inside because a curtain is lifted. Carvajal likes these trompe l’oeil effects.
Asked about her central theme Carvajal says: ‘The man-woman relationship, the child, love, death, the dream, beauty, strangeness. Everything you initially do not understand. In the late sixties Nicole Carvajal started her art studies at the University of Santiago de Chile. The training was quite varied. Not only art and art history was taught, but also prining and geometry.
One of the teachers she recalls is Rodolfo Opazo. ‘He had studied in Paris. He had mastered the surrealist movement. He was a great inspiration, not only for me, but for my fellow students as well. After lessons he took us to his house and he showed how he was working. It was cozy. We got to eat and drink and Rodolfo told about the significance of his work. In the subway of Santiago you still can see hugh paintings by Rodolfo.’
Her education was interrupted by the Chilean coup of 1973. She waited two years for the junta to disappear. When that didn’t happen, she decided to leave. With an Italian boat she crosssed the ocean from Buenos Aires to Genoa. The boat was full of Chileans. Friends were living in Milan. After a month, she made a trip to Amsterdam to visit a good girlfriend. She wanted to convince her to come to Milan.
A young man
History would turn out differently. Her friend had a room in the university dorm in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam. Visiting her friend she met a young man, a student social geography at the university. She did not go back to Milan. And that young man is still there. Carvajal: ‘When the relationship lasted, that young man said to me: ‘You better go to the Academy here to complete your studies.’ And her girlfriend? She married a Frenchman, went to Paris and had children.
On the backseat of the young man’s bicycle she went for an interview to the Rietveld Academy. ‘There was a committee of six people at a long table. They came to the conclusion that I could be admitted as a third year student. I had to go another three years.’ One of her favorite teachers was Herman Gordijn. ‘I still get a Christmas card each year from him.’
In 1979 she graduated and a month later she married. Meanwhile she spoke Dutch fluently. Her art career began. She went to BKR (Visual Arts Scheme) to show her works. ‘I was accepted at BKR, a miracle! BKR artists had to submit a work once a month. She saw a wide variety of artists participating. ‘Even guys who were on drugs with work that fell out of the list.’
Entreprising as she was, she stepped to an art dealer at the Amsterdam Rokin. The man had built up a succesful business selling Old Dutch scenes to Americans. She showed him her work. ‘These paintings are not selling. You should make still lifes, seventeenth century like, half lemons for instance.’’I will try.’ And indeed, her new paintings aroused interest. She received 300 per painting that the man sold for 1000 or even 2000 dollars.
She got a little bit ashamed. One day she went to a fancy gallery, D’Eendt. ‘The old gentleman was still there. He understood my problem. ‘Madam, you do not worry. Everyone needs food on the table.’ For a year she could deliver her work at the gallery. She noted that her technique was much improved by making sevententh-century paintings. In the same year she got an exhibition in the Mirror Hall of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
Then came the children, two girls. The family moved to Zoetermeer. ‘Zoetermeer seemed a kind of prison camp.’ Her focus was on the children. She continued painting, especially child portraits, but it was not the real thing. When the children were able to stay in school during lunch break, she began seriously again. She noticed how much she had learned from Rodolfo Opazo, in terms of ideas – ‘everything comes from a kind of dream world’, but also in terms of material. ‘You cannot recognize my hand in the paintings. I also saw it at Margritte paintings. Paint is a subtle thing. I mix the colors. My paintings are almost all drawings that are colored.’
Le Bertin looks twice
Asked about a key work, she mentions two works: ‘L'âge de l'innocence’ and ‘Le Bertin looks twice’. On the first work, L'âge de l'innocence we see a nice girl in a beautiful dress with a gloomy look. In the background hands, a birdie and an open window. ‘It is an innocent child who has had a strict upbringing. In her neck you see a wound that is sewn. At first glance everything looks great and protected. But the child is beaten and may not show that. She must have pain. The sutured wound is in the area of her mouth and her voice. The window on the right is an escape. The bird is free, but the girl isn’t.’
As for the second work, ‘Lé Bertin looks twice’: ‘Louis-François Bertin was a journalist at the time of Napoleon. Politically he was rightwing, royalist oriented. He was constantly in jail. In The Louvre there is a painting of him, by Ingres. In my painting he is the archetypal man. The woman behind him is taken from Otto Dix, she is his ‘trophy wife’.
In 1975 Museum Lakenhal in Leiden bought two works by Carvajal, ‘Relaxed Vladimir’ and ‘The Pimp’. Museo de Artes Visuales in Chile purchased het work ‘Max y la modelo’ and in Aarhus, Denmark there are two privately owned works, ‘The widower’, recently exhibited in the Museum of Aarhus and ‘La belle au bois dormant’. Ms Schulz, the Dutch minister of Infrastructure and Environment, has some of her paintings. ‘When she was an elderman in Leiden some paintings of mine hung behind her desk, including ‘Posthumous present’, an image of F. Bacon with a bleeding woman. She did the opening word at an exhibition at Gallery Arte Sin Limites in The Hague.’
Prolongation of youth
Nicole Carvajal is a member of Ars Aemula Naturae, Leiden’s painting and drawing society. She’s been several years in the balloting committee. Currently she is also The Discourse of this society. The Discourse has nine participants. It consists of painters, sculptors and draughtsmen. ‘We talk about each other’s work. The group was set up to get acquainted. It is accompanied by a retired historian, Michael Hoogenhuyze. Hoogenhuyze did the opening at a recent show of hers in gallery Le Petit Port in Leiden.
Finally, what’s Nicole’s philosophy? ‘Youth goes too fast! Art is a kind of way to dream about the extension of youth. For the first time you see ‘something’. You remember the ‘freshness’ of an ‘old’ moment of time. Those memories you put on the canvas, and then there comes a new image, with new power. That is magic. As an artist you are again witnessing a new and not always pleasant effigy. It comes out of your head and fingers. It feels great. Shapes and colors emerge. The content is a secret. You try to read the riddle.’