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For Her, It's the Tropic of Celebration

Ana Mercedes Hoyos' paintings inspired by her native Colombia have won international acclaim.

May 05, 1996|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

'I'm a very Colombian artist. Let's put it like that," Ana Mercedes Hoyos said in a telephone conversation last week from her studio in Bogota. "I was born here and I was raised here, but I was very fortunate because I have traveled since I was a child."

Faced with the familiar dilemma of Latin American artists who yearn to cultivate their roots but also to flourish in the international art scene, Hoyos, 52, has been unusually successful. Fernando Botero--internationally renowned for his fanciful paintings and sculptures of inflated figures and animals--is probably the only Colombian artist who has captured more attention in the art press.

Hoyos' voluptuous paintings of lush, tropical subjects have been featured in dozens of solo and group exhibitions, including "Latin American Women Artists 1915-1995," a major traveling show organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum that will make its final appearance at the Center for Fine Arts in Miami June 14-Aug. 25. That will end an 18-month run that took it to the Phoenix Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington.

But now Hoyos is approaching a new frontier. Still little known in Los Angeles, she is making her West Coast debut at Louis Stern Fine Arts in West Hollywood with a show of recent paintings and works on paper that opened on Saturday and continues to June 25.

"I'm so much looking forward to this project," Hoyos said just before leaving Bogota for a short sojourn in New York, on her way to Los Angeles. "I'm very excited about the work. I've been in the studio for a month and a half nonstop."

Looking forward to encountering a new audience, she said the show will feature works from three series: "Bazurto," depicting marketplaces on Colombia's Caribbean coast, largely populated by descendants of slaves from West Africa; "Universo de Julia," portraits of an African-Colombian woman that trace an individual's experience in a displaced culture; and "Bodegones," still life paintings of tropical fruits. In all the series, subjects are typically drenched with light, portrayed in hot, nearly translucent colors and cropped so that full-blown volumes all but burst from the picture plane.

Hoyos has developed her distinctive style over the past 35 years, honing an aesthetic sensibility that blends an exuberant, life-affirming version of Colombian realism with Pop art's brash celebration of ordinary objects--minus its customary irony. North Americans tend to see her work as tropical Pop, while Latin Americans are more likely to view it as Colombian art filtered through an international viewpoint.

From her youth--when Hoyos was educated at Bogota's Marymount School by English-speaking nuns from New York--to her college days, when she studied art at Colombian universities but also delved into art history on travels to Europe and the United States, she has straddled two art worlds, indigenous and foreign. For the past 15 years, she has spent about five months a year in New York and established herself in the gallery scene there, showing at the Associated American Artists gallery.

The daughter of the late Colombian architect Manual Jose Hoyos, the wife of architect Jacques Mosseri and the mother of Ana Mosseri, an art student who will graduate this month from Parsons School of Design in New York, Hoyos might appear to have been destined to be an artist. But that is not what her parents had in mind.

"Oh, no," she said, recalling their resistance. "My father took my sister and me to museums when we were very young. He liked art a lot, but he thought it was something good for two young ladies who were going to be well raised. He never expected that I was going to be an artist. My mother, Ester Mejia, was a very fine lady who came from a very important family in Colombia. She played cards and had a lot of friends. She was a very nice and very intelligent woman, but in that society girls were very well treated, which means they didn't do anything. They were raised to be fine ladies."

In that traditional milieu, "being an artist was not so nice," Hoyos said. "You were supposed to be Bohemian and involved in all kinds of things that were not proper for young ladies, so my mother was very reluctant. It was very hard for both of us, but we eventually became very close and my husband became a very good friend of both my father and my mother."

Looking back over the evolution of her mature style, Hoyos cites Edward Hopper as an important early influence. The somber American realist's work may seem far removed from Hoyos' vibrant paintings, but she was impressed by his ability to be "so close to daily life and to represent something very immediate."

Ultimately, though, it was Andy Warhol's direct approach to ordinary objects that played a more fundamental role in shaping her direction. "I like Pop art very much philosophically," she said. "I think it is the most important movement in the 20th century."

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