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September 2002

Claudia Campaña, specialist on the work of Adolfo Couve:
"Couve was a stubborn and honest artist"

An interview with Claudia Campaña, organizer of the first massive exhibit of writer Adolfo Couve's paintings.

By Rosario Mena


Opened during October at the National Fine Arts Museum, the exhibit "Adolfo Couve, a painting lesson", allowed people to see the most rare side of this Chilean writer's talent. Art historian Claudia Campaña —a friend and heir of his class at Universidad Católica— edited and wrote a catalogue about his paintings, the first serious effort to understand a mythic figure, whose romantic and decadent legend was sealed in 1998 with his suicide at the nostalgic beach of Cartagena, where he spent the last fourteen years of his life.

—How did this project come to be?
—It started in 1998 when I presented a project to Universidad Catolica's Investigation Direction to begin with the gathering and analysis of Couve's art work. For three years I worked on the book and exhibit. I thought a lot of people said what a great painter Couve was, but few had actually seen his paintings. There was no book about them. Now that the retrospective is over, hopefully people will have a more solid view.

—How did you inherit Couve's class?
—He did theory classes at Santiago's Universidad Católica since 1974. In 1981 he quit so he could concentrate on his classes for Universidad de Chile. I was then a student there and became his assistant. So he was the one to decide I should take the class he was leaving. He thought I could do a good work. We both shared a great enthusiasm for the Renaissance and the Baroque times. He gave me a lot of books. But, obviously, my classes are very different to Couve's.

—Which are, in your opinion, the artists with whom Couve's work dialogues?
—He was an admirer of Juan Francisco Gonzalez and Pablo Burchard. It is evident in his paintings. They all had an interest in the spot, the fast solution, the minimal narration and the fragment.

—What heritage aspects would you highlight in his work? Was he interested in promoting what's Chilean?
—He is an artist who has no interest in "telling" anything with his brush, or in representing typical people. His themes are more like excuses to solve problems related to painting. His language is universal. He defined himself as a painter who sticks to realism, a school that does not look for the particular. If he painted the El Tabo or Cartagena beaches it was just fragments, it could be any beach in the world.

—How important was Cartagena for him?
—The seaside town where he moves to in 1984 motivates him to return to painting. It is there he finds a good light and the tranquility needed. About his literature, Cartagena gives him the perfect scenario to write his novels. He is a nostalgic, and in Cartagena finds testimonies of a past that motivates him. One of his best novels is "La comedia del arte" (1995); all his characters inhabit this damaged and forgotten place.

—How do you see his isolation? Was he a hermit? Was he a rebel against success?
—When one talks about his isolation, it does not begin when he moves to the seaside. Couve was always a loner, he never enjoyed social life, which does not mean he had no friends or did not enjoy a good conversation. One could spend hours with him talking about anything. Besides, while living in Cartagena he would still come to Santiago to teach his classes. In general, visual artists enjoy solitude; their works can only materialize in independency and isolation. Creation does not only come from talent, but from concentration and self—discipline. Couve was a stubborn and honest artist with his plastic and literary interests. He would not trade them, and even though he sometimes suffered for the lack of recognition, he was not willing to follow trends or enter the social game to get it. He was categorical on that. But he was neither a completely rejected creator nor punished by the critics or people. During his lifetime he had praise for his work, and had most of his colleagues and students respect.

 
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