La Princesa Ometepetl en su Jardin
c1980 by Abel Vargas
Instituto Nicaraguense de Cultura, Convento San Francisco, Granada, Nicaragua
Hanging on the cool stone walls of the sixteenth-century Convento San Francisco are a collection of Nicaraguan painters. The style of these artists unites them – all are naive in approach; colour is bold, lines are simple, creating a quiet and immediately accessible beauty to each of the works – no matter what the subject matter. When some of the paintings show the brutality of civil war or the ravaging of villages – such as Amilcar Mendieta’s La Batalla de San Jacinto, 1988 – this naive approach is made all the more poignant; flat and two-dimensional blood seeping in puddles from Lowry-like matchstick men. Such violence, much of which is in living memory, is perhaps made easier to remember – or indeed to take possession of – in a style which is akin to the primitive painters of the country’s history. It is no surprise then that much of the other work by this group of painters is inspired by pre-Columbian legends, indigenous village life and mythological Nicaraguan figures. La Princesa Ometepetl en su Jardin is such a painting, showing the Princess of the island Ometepe ‘in the garden’. Vargas was born on the island of Ometepe – a mystical place even without the mythology, it is formed of two dramatic volcanoes and sits on Lago de Nicaragua – a lake so big that Spanish invaders thought they were setting out to sea when they first came across its shores. The painting shows the outline of the island’s distant volcanoes, their bright green tops, lush with jungle, misty in pillows of violet clouds. The jungle in the foreground appears shining and plump, abundant in leaves and lusciously healthy, with each detail picked out brightly. It is the almost childlike style of Vargas that lets nature appear so cheerfully; every leaf striving upwards, holding the jungle’s animals – the parrot, humming bird and tropical frog – still before us. The Princess herself appears as beautifully arranged as the green that surrounds her; serene in posture and composure, she holds out a red fruit, symbolising perhaps the passion, blood and love of her country. So perfectly undisturbed, Vargas’s garden is fanciful, yet not untrue; like so many Latin American artists and novelists, Vargas combines reality with mysticism to show another way.