Iona Elliot discovers the achievements of Margarita Checa and the inspiration behind her figurative sculptures
Known for her intricate andemotionally compelling figures, witheach new form Margarita Checa seeks to lead her audience to reflection through a sensual visual dialogue on the human spirit.
“Many people have identified my work with Egypt, and with Africa in general, but not with the Peruvian culture. I feel my work would not have the same meaning if I had not been born in Peru”, explains Margarita.
The elegantly carved bodies explore the anguish of living, the innertorment universal to all cultures and their people.
Bill Lowe, owner ofThe Lowe Gallery (www.lowegallery.com) in Los Angeles and Atlanta, said, “She was destined to be a force in the international art world, and I wanted to be the engine that drove her evolution in the commercial and curatorial arena.”
Margarita Checa was born in Lima, Peru in 1950. She was one of four daughters and two sons living ¡n a large hacienda that had been in her family for generations near Piura, on Peru’s north west coast tip. Her father’s family had a long tradition in agriculture while her mother’s were mainly attorneys. “I believe these two streams somehow marked my life”.
From 1969 through to 1980 Margarita’s family was forced to take worthless bonds for their homestead, and pennies for their machinery.They also had to flee revolutions and turmoil in Peru and moved to Nicaragua, then to Costa Rica and back to Peru when it seemed that their homeland was once again secure, taking with them green asparagus.
Margarita was always interested in art. While attending Hatchlands,a Britishprivate school in Surrey – just 14 girls from around the world were in her class – the director; Dawn Hardgraves, whose husband was the messenger of the Queen, spoke to Margarita’s father and convinced him to let her study art in Paris. Although she was allowed to go, Margarita decided to attend the Catholic University, School of the Arts in Peru.
Margarita entered the Catholic University to study drawing in 1972 and started working in bronzes in 1977. At university, Checa met Anna Maccagno who introduced her to sculpture.
“I created organic sculptures, tearing, bones, and when I felt that was not fulfilling I dropped out of school to learn drawing with Cristina and discovered many things, all of them priceless.” She graduated with honors in 1979, but Cristina Galvez, was her mentor; not only in drawing but also in life. “Cristina influenced not only my art but also my human side.” Galvez had spent time in Paris, married a Frenchman, studied with Germaine Richier; and was a friend of Albert Camus. She returned to Peru in 1953 and fought for change. She thought that changes kept hope alive and worked there up to her death in 1982.
Says Margarita “When my master passed away we opened her studio and rented it from her sister”. She opened the Christina Galvez Atelier along with Leslie Lee whowas teaching painting, Ana Maria Cogorno who taught pottery and Margarita taught sculpture and drawing.
In 1985 she began painting because she felt that she did not understand the nature of color “Life is never black and white – that is certain, so when I finally understood its essence, I quit it (painting) after one year Now I am mainly a sculptress”, says Margarita.
Art was now her profession and in 1989, due to a need to enlarge her pieces, she began to use wood as a medium. She said, “I had only made one (wood) piece in school, I just did not feel the material then, but I learned that everything has a pace and a rhythm, especially life, at all levels. I felt that while a small piece is something for you to guard, a big piece embraces you, so I went to the old master carpenters in Peru and learned from them.Then wood did its part, always teaching, guiding you.”
Margarita taught for 12 years and stopped when she moved to Costa Rica in 1992, and stayed until 1995. “We decided to leave because of the terrorist movement, the Shinning Path, which destroyed Peru.
“I went to live in Costa Rica because it was difficult to raise two children in those years – you never knew where the nextbomb might be.” She left with her husband who she had married in 1972, her son Jose Carlos, born in 1973 and now owns an e-commerce company, and daughter Carolina born in 1975, who is now an interpreter/translator and lives at home.
In 1995 Margarita had a severe automobile accident, which forced her to make some hard decisions and changes in her life. “I was seriously hurt and it took me three months or more to recover. It changed my life.” She divorced and went back to Peru with her daughter.
She says of her current influences, “I long for the myth, I start encrusting different elements in my work after seeing a cuchimilco of the Chancay culture, one that has influenced a great number of plastic artists in Peru. Most of the pieces of this culture are privately owned rather than exhibited in museums.
“All my life I lived through archetypes or symbols that I later used in my work, this is the only way to keep their intensity.The puma came to me after a long search between dreams and obsessions.”
Margarita says of her early works, “It was a catharsis, like a scream, like the first words coming out of the mouth of a child. I believe that in order to create art you have to fly over your own humanityto touch others, and this detachment comes with time and tons of humility.”
Teaching was a good source of income for Margarita, but since 1997 her art sales have supported her and now she doesn’t have time to teach, although she hopes to go back to it in the future.
“I can tell you that teaching was not simply giving lessons, I realized that I brought home some of the enquiries, and I was constantly trying to find different ways to transmit ideas to the students.”
In the United States Margarita is represented by The Lowe Gallery. Bill Lowe found out about Margarita by way of introduction from a friend who encountered her work in South America. Bill knew he could place her work with his clients.
“I think Margarita’s ‘voice’ is utterly unique in contemporary figurative sculpture. Her ability to translate sweeping conceptual and philosophical considerations into exquisitely crafted forms is unparalleled in contemporary sculpture.
“While deeply mystical in nature, these works eloquently articulate a roundedness in humanism that makes them accessible to almost anyone,” says Bill.
Margarita enjoys meeting her collectors when she attends the gallery openings and explains, “The work of any artist is always very lonesome, otherwise how could you hear yourself?
“The fact of showing your work in an exhibit is a confrontation. Selling is absolutely necessary to continue producing, but more than that it is the identification of the people with your art where you find an echo, and that is wonderful.”
“My work is like a thread of life of mine that is the one I have to live… if it helps others to let their fears go or to find themselves in something, or to identify themselves with it, that would be an accomplishment.”
Margarita uses an electric saw, pneumatic hammer, various gouges, and the Dremel tool for small detailed work. Although Margarita finds it hard to carve, olive is her wood of choice, and she finds it easy to sand.
Margarita had bought 80 tons of olive wood that had been cut down. “I amlooking for a new kind of wood, like the one I used to work on when living in Costa Rica. It’s called Guanacaste or Cenizaro.”
Currently Margarita is preparing to visit the jungle to buy some wood. “We have the same trees here, but under different names, I often buy trees that are already dead.”
She still visits Costa Rica to see her son, her sister who is married to a Costa Rican lawyer, and to visit some friends but not for wood. Margarita has made four pieces this year and has sent some to be cast in bronze.This is partly because she has beenmaking trips to the Agricultural University to find out the names of the woods she wants to buy, as well as building her foundry with her two assistants who have worked with her since 1997.
Margarita’s foundry will be built in her studio, 20 minutes from her home.
“I am building each machine and checking them all – I took some bronze foundry lessons with George Beasley, at Georgia University.”
I asked Margarita, where do you see yourself going? She replied, “To the unknown.” :