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Ramiro Llona

The Americas Collection - Miami

By Raisa Clavijo

The Americas Collection late last year presented a selection of canvases by the Peruvian artist Ramiro Llona, all of which were created within the last decade. Parallel to the exhibition in Miami, two expositions were presented in Lima: “El lugar de la pintura” at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo and “El gesto informado” at the Centro Cultural Británico. These expositions occurred 18 years after his first retrospective at the Museo de Arte de Lima (MALI) and brought together works on both canvas and paper, demonstrating the stylistic evolution of this artist.

Llona is one of the great masters of Latin American art. Some of that is due to the fact that, although his work has gone through several phases, it escapes pre-established categorizations. All the same, his oeuvre has always had its own distinct voice, unique and recognizable.

The art critic Jorge Villacorta observed in 1998, in his essay about the first retrospective, that Llona’s painting had been constructed with its own language in constant dialogue with the pictorial legacies of modernism. He stated, “His work requires a reinterpretation of some prior approaches that transformed painting at the turn of the century. Moreover, he relies on them to ironically question the tradition of the new in the art of the last 40 years.”1

Ramiro Llona, Cuestión de género, 2009, oil on canvas, 78 ¾” x 93 3/8.” Courtesy of The Americas Collection.

Ramiro Llona, Cuestión de género, 2009, oil on canvas, 78 ¾” x 93 3/8.” Courtesy of The Americas Collection.

His style has passed through recognizable figuration, where shadows and the color black prevailed, followed by an Abstract Expressionism dominated by movement and color to reach his current body of works in which he has attained a process of reflection on his own language. He understood that the pictorial problem is resolved through interacting with oils, exploring all expressive possibilities that the material could offer. In the current works, he begins the paintings in a very gestural way, applying color and drawing on the canvas. Suddenly, in the midst of the process, a color dominates the canvas and an organizing structure appears. Then, the color becomes the protagonist, a communicator of moods. Edward Sullivan, in an essay about Llona’s oeuvre that accompanied the catalogue of the Miami exhibition, said, “The color itself-whether strong primary colors or his odd, hybrid colors like his unmistakable flesh tones and sometimes seeringly acidic yellows-functions with roles of their own as carriers of mood and announcers of an aura that permeates the canvas, spreading outward to create an impression on the psyche of the viewer.”2

For their part, forms appear as though barely suggested, achieved through an extension of a gesture, a stroke. They are forms that at times suggest architectonic elements, furniture, stairs, hallways, silhouettes, parts of the human body. They coexist in combinations that can suggest a certain narrative, which may be interpreted by the viewer in accordance with his experience and visual repertoire. Sullivan called attention to the presence of an “enigma of forms,” structures that struggle in a battle between “chaos” and “calm.”

From a conceptual point of view, Llona’s artistic production is anchored in his cultural background, both pictorial and literary. Sullivan sees in the oeuvre of this artist the influence of Abstract Expressionism (Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko) and Surrealism (Roberto Matta, Arshile Gorky, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, Fernando de Szyszlo). There is also the undeniable influence of Bacon, Picasso, Cézanne and Matisse that Llona has acknowledged in various interviews. Delving deeper into the meaning of his works, Sullivan adds: “An avid reader not only of fiction but also of historical and philosophical texts, Llona transfers his wisdom, erudition and sensitivity to the human condition into his paintings. His works have always seemed to me like road maps of the valleys and mountains, the depths and heights of the human psyche.”3

Ramiro Llona, Diálogo suspendido, 2015 - 2016, oil on canvas, 118 1/8” x 128.”

Ramiro Llona, Diálogo suspendido, 2015 - 2016, oil on canvas, 118 1/8” x 128.”

Llona has confirmed in numerous interviews the relationship between his work and the different moods of the human psyche, relating the creative act with an exercise of catharsis, of self-knowledge and of self-analysis. Even the art critic Donald Kuspit visualized his works as kind of “mental landscapes.”4

In a conversation with Jeremías Gamboa, contained in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition in Miami, Llona said, “You and the painting you create are one in the same and each mark on the canvas portrays you, reveals you.”5 His oeuvre is influenced by how he sees himself and feels about the different events that befall him or those he witnesses. There exists in his work a kind of symbolism that the artist prefers to leave to free interpretation. Kuspit, in a text written in the 1990s, spoke of an eternal erotic-thanatic relationship. The erotic is symbolized by the sensuality of the color and in some forms that might call to mind sex organs or erotic encounters. The thanatic could be present in the ambiguity and uncertainty that some scenes communicate and in the presence of those vigorous, black strokes that Kuspit relates to death.6

The works assembled at The Americas Collection seduce due to their expressive force and enormous formats in which this artist manages to develop a narrative dimension that has gained strength in his work over the past decade and that, at the same time, is masterfully diluted in the two-dimensionality of the canvas. Ramiro Llona’s works establish and shorten the distance between the piece of art and the public. His scenes and their enigmatic messages draw us in and invite us to dig deeply, to delve into the titles, into the conditions that caused the artist to use this or that language. Standing before them, we can imagine Llona hard at work, wishing to become one with the canvas in an act of total surrender.

(December 1, 2016 - January 31, 2017)


1. Jorge Villacorta. “La memoria de las formas.” In: Ramiro Llona. Retrospectiva 1973/1998. Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 1998, p. 19.

2. Edward J. Sullivan. “Dilemmas of Form, Dialogues of Space.” In: Ramiro Llona. Miami: The Americas Collection, 2016.

3. Sullivan, 2016.

4. Donald Kuspit. “Ramiro Llona: El terreno íntimo del tiempo.” En: Ramiro Llona. Lima: Wu Ediciones, 1990.

5. Jeremías Gamboa. “La voluntad del todo.” In: Ramiro Llona. Miami: The Americas Collection, 2016.

6. Kuspit, 1990.

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