The unfortunate thing about being in my line of work is that I get to meet some of the most brilliant minds in a variety of fields, but our interaction tends to be limited, and strictly professional: I interview them for whatever title I’m writing for, and our relationship teeters on that of interviewer and the interviewed; the writer and his subject. Very seldom do I get to push past that professional barrier; to get to know the artist not for his work, but for the human being he or she is. It is something I regret – sometimes being a writer requires the connection of minds that comes from friendly, casual interaction and deep conversation, rather than the back-and-forth of a pre-arranged interview.
So it was my exquisite pleasure when I had the opportunity to show renowned Argentine artist Ernesto Morales around downtown Singapore when he brought to our shores his incredible artwork, currently displayed at Sabiana Paoli Art Gallery. He was joined by the lovely Nicoletta Bacino, founder of Turin’s Forme Art Gallery, and together, they were here to promote Ernesto’s Invisible Bridges collection, a trio of paintings inspired by Singapore’s architecture (this, and more of Ernesto’s pieces can be seen at the end of this entry).
The 1.9 metre tall, 40-year-old artist is someone you could befriend very easily. He has an easy smile, and a warm, very engaging personality. Newcomers to the art world are always bombarded with horror stories of artists who are too caught up in the pursuit of their art to politely connect to the average person at a human level. Ernesto would easily break this false preconception.
When my friend, acclaimed Italian art consultant and collector Sabiana Paoli, first introduced me to the works of Ernesto Morales earlier this year, she showed me an amazing diptych from his sublime Bosques (Forest) series titled Golondrinas en el bosque – Spanish for Swallows In The Forest.
It featured two tiers of a forest – the misted, mystic forest bed, and the higher echelons of these trees, home to majestic swallows in the form of spits of black paint that take stark flight from the foggy lower tier. This soulwarming disconnect between the two panels of the diptych gave the piece a sense of ethereal energy despite the minimalist approach to its elements. Needless to say, I was impressed. At this point, it’s been two years since I wrote my first article on art. Most landscapes or dreamscapes I’ve seen would be regarded as foreign to the average art viewer. Landscapes serve well in revealing the locales that shape and direct an artist’s intellect. Looking at one can be an unfamiliar, voyeuristic experience, if one does not identify with the particular setting of a landscape.
Ernesto’s are different. The subjects of his landscapes are the night sky, open seas and forests. We are all familiar with these breathtaking sweeps of nature. His landscapes connect souls, viewer to artist, viewer to viewer.
ERNESTO MORALES – THE MAN BEHIND THE ART
If anything, Ernesto is a born artist. Before he even turned six, Ernesto would paint on any surface he could get his hands on. This included the walls and furniture of his childhood home.
“As a child, I would draw ‘magic people’,” he said in a Skype interview prior to his arrival in Singapore. These ‘magic people’ referred to fantastical, mystical figures, denizens of a strange, alien world he creates with whimsical sparks of the imagination.
These early effusions would be honed into subtle, sublime artistic expression in Buenos Aires’ famous Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes. Upon graduation, the restless Ernesto began his exploration of the natural world that would later form the subjects of his art. His search for beauty, peace and the truth would find temporary relief in Madrid, Paris, Rome, Mexico and Sao Paolo. He even spent a year in a Buddhist monastery in the Argentinian mountains. In an age where such an act would be derided as ‘hipster’, Ernesto proved to be a person distanced from the mad rabble of the masses, seeing beauty in places others overlook or take for granted.
As I brought Ernesto around downtown Singapore, one of the first things I noticed about him was a fish-out-of-the-water quality. His sharp eyes took in Singapore’s colours, the spirit of the locale as defined by its architecture, its illumination, its shadows, the people who pass by and the people who stay. It seemed like something he could not help: he was always the immaculate artist, and he could hardly turn it off.
It was an endearing, almost child-like quality, but it was this curiousity that we’ve learnt to so falsely associate only with children that informs and moulds his art. It gives shape and soul to the seemingly formless clouds of his Nebulosas collection, it allows him to see the forest for the trees in Bosques.
During dinner that night, we discovered a shared carnivorous instinct (we both loved meat), I introduced him to Milo Dinosaur, and we compared the structure of meals in Europe and in Asia – juxtaposing tapas with dim sum, steaks with rice or noodle dishes. Ernesto was intellectual, laughed easily, and was taking in every experience in Singapore with a contagious delight.
Eventually, conversation shifted to the year Ernesto spent in a Buddhist monastery in the Argentinian mountains.
“Why?” I asked, picturing the vegetarian diet, the solitude, the lack of Playstation.
“I was searching,” he said in heavily-accented English. Ernesto merely said three words, but I knew the deeper semantics behind it – as a maestro of artistic expression, the endeavour to know the truths of the world at large and the world within, is important to him. He wanted to know the colour and the form of his soul, and he wanted to see the colours and forms of the natural world.
The delightful conversation at dinner alternated between intellectual discussion on art, the media and politics, cross-cultural banter and jokes, and personal sharing on hobbies, life back at home and the such. I felt truly blessed to be able to partake in such exchange with him and the equally knowledgeable Nicoletta Bacino.
After dinner, I had the privilege of seeing the artist at work, as Ernesto stopped frequently in the middle of the road to take pictures of Singapore’s – no, not it’s famous skyline – clouds. Yes, in Fullerton Bay, flanked by the historic Fullerton Hotel and with the iconic Marina Bay Sands looming in the distance, Ernesto saw form and refulgence in Singapore’s clouds.
I laughed appreciatively. In that very scene, you could see Ernesto the man, the child within, and the artist.
Indeed, the energy, imagination and curiousity that makes him seem child-like, is coupled with a deep, intuitive and very mature understanding of the world and the intense spirituality that pervades existence. It makes him a brilliant artist, but it also makes him a wonderful friend.
Invisible Bridges was part of Ernesto’s famous Ciudades Migrantes (Migrant Cities) series. In Ciudades Migrantes, Ernesto would visit different cities and paint their iconic edifices. Invisible Bridges represents the Singaporean iteration of this. While anybody who has seen images of Singapore’s skyline would easily identify his points of references, the paintings are made nebulous, to facilitate a breadth of interpretation. To Ernesto, each individual lives and breathes in a city differently from the next person, and he lifts this notion expertly with muted colours and the bridges’ assumed metaphorical and metaphysical impositions.
With Bosques (Forests), Ernesto perfectly provides an explanation for our seemingly unexplainable need to retreat back to nature. His paintings are almost panegyrical, a visual essay in tribute to the “sublime beauty of the world”, as Nicoletta Bacino so eloquently puts it.
Mares Migrantes (Migrant Seas) reflects the tranquility of Ernesto’s personality. His seas do not express themselves in waves or violent undulations. They are calm, tepid – a worthy platform that brings out the other elements in the paintings, such as haunting empty boats, and skies in magical conflagrations of colour.
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