One of the artists of his generation that I admire most and have had the pleasure to meet several times is David Manzur. This gentleman is not only one of Colombia´s great artists but a person of tremendous intellectual and cultural character and an asset to his country.
David Manzur Londoño was born in the town of Neira, in the department of Caldas, Colombia in 1929. He formally started out his artistic career in the 50´s following what were the strong tendencies and influences in Colombia and the world at this time:
Abstract art (either based on the abstract expressionists or geometrical abstraction coming from the influence of fellow latino Torres-Garcia) and developed his work based on constructivism before finding his forte in the world of renaissance-style drawing in which he excels completely.
So how did such a group of different art strains come to be born within the same person? Read on to find out more about the life and work of Colombian artist extraordinaire David Manzur.
David Manzur had a completely normal childhood. Normal that is if traveling from Colombia to Equatorial Guinea, Africa (and living there from the age of 3 till the age of 17) is the norm! Having a father from the Middle East and a Colombian Mother perhaps was not the norm for someone born in Colombia in that era (and I am sure it wasn’t!).
As a teenager he started his art studies at the Art School Arte Claret de las Palmas (in the Canary Isles) and then later (now back in Colombia) he studied at the school of Las Bellas Artes in Bogotá, which though the Colombian capital, in the 40´s was probably just as far removed from Caldas as Africa was!
David Manzur (1960)
Art of The 50´s
David Manzur seems to have been born with with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth as his first exhibition was an individual presentation of his work at the National Museum in Bogota, Colombia in 1953. However, knowing the man, one sees that he works incessantly, his mind especially continually criticizing his own work. So I can say without doubt that he has earned every personal achievement that has come to him during his career.
Harlequins (Mural – 1959)
Of course one has to remember that in those days (well it was over 50 years ago) when countries like Colombia were still very much developing states, real professional fine artists were still relatively few and far between. Indeed a modern perception or understanding of the fine art in Colombia probably only started a decade or so before this date with the works of Enrique Grau and Deborah Arango despite the fact that the “artists of the sabana” and the likes of Andres de Santamaría had been presenting their works since the beginning of the twentieth century but largely to the moneyed “bourgeois” classes.
In any case, his work was very much “of-the-times” and formed part of the expressionist movement. After continuing in this style Manzur was nominated and won the Guggenheim scholarship in 1961 and this sent him off to live in New York. However, it must be said that Manzur himself refutes that he was painting purely abstract work as he says that “each line had inside of it a figurative form and meaning that secretly guided me and did not allow me to lose myself”.
Fish (Watercolor – 1959)
Astronomy and Pop Art
Strange as it may seem – the great Master artist David Manzur almost gave up art after winning his Guggenheim prizes (yes, prizes – he also won the award in 1962 – something extremely unheard of). Why?
When the pop art movement gained strength in the start of the 60´s and brought down the previous reign of the abstract expressionist movement Manzur felt like his world had been defeated.
He then renounced art and even though he was no scientist matriculated himself in a school of astronomy (which was to serve him well later as he befriended the well known scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan). As he says – after about a year I almost went crazy. The scientist is a man who in contradiction to the artist cannot allow speculation. Everything must be completely proved to him.
So instead of finding a new freedom as he had hoped the mathematics closed in and around on Manzur taking him almost to crisis. However, by confronting this confining wall which had restricted and almost frozen his soul he returned to Colombia in 1964 and started again to express himself through his art. Though this time it was a much more sanitized and orderly art which presented him through his new learning.
The Moon Two Times (Assemblage, Oil on Canvas – 1966)
Returning To Colombia: Constructivism and Assemblies
Forms of the Moon (Assemblage & Collage – detail)
It was also around this time that Manzur discovered the work of the Russian father of constructivism Naum Gabo and this movement along with his recent immersion in science and mathematics brought to the fore in Manzur the desire not only to create assemblage art but to develop traditional constructivist artwork and to develop his won style using kilometers of thread and picture frames. Some of these works took immense size and were placed in public spaces. However, Manzur had only been working on these pieces for a few short years when in 1973 an encounter with the father of constructivism, Naum Gabo, changed his life and the course his art would take until the present day.
Red Moon (Assemblage with Oils – 1966)
Gabo admired Manzur work in constructivism however, he saw in this young artist something different and he suggested that he return to organic drawing with reference to the Renaissance artists of Rafael and Miguel Angel. He also suggested that he should turn to his spanish and latin roots and look to create imprecise drawings which would not have a clear point of termination. And with this Manzur turned to what has perhaps provided him with most fame – his pastels and oils of still lifes, San Jorges (Saint George) and flies!
Astroport (Assemblage of steel with chrome cord – 1974) (90 m2)
Of Still Lifes, San Jorges and Flies!
So, in the early to mid 70´s David Manzur began a third chapter of his artistic career and one which would bring him even greater recognition in Colombia and beyond.
After his discussion with Naum Gabo he started to reflect on his most recent work and decided that it was too mathematical, too cold, without emotion and without emotion there was no reason to create a work of art which should always grow from the seed planted by emotion. Deciding that it was best to use the freedom that his work as an artist gave him, Manzur made the decision to start again and work towards new expressions for a new public. So he started out creating his style of still life drawings, incorporating many of the items that had caught his interest such as the lute, fruits and musical themes working principally with pastel on paper as his medium.
Sheet Music (Pastel/Paper – 1984)
At this point, and quite by chance he decided to incorporate flies into his drawings. And, as Manzur says, this created enough controversy within the public to bring him new identity – rather than being identified with his still life drawings of lutes, grenadine fruits or sheets of music. While many were looking for a deeper meaning as to his incorporation of this insect into his works his reason is simpler: one day a fly attracted by the heat of the studio lights under which he worked landed on his drawing – and he copied it with the shadow it created and he discovered that it gave a new dimension to his work.
Portrait of a Friend With The Face of Mona Lisa
(Acrylic on Canvas – 1978) [detail]
It was shortly thereafter that his work turned away from the still life and took a life of its own when he began to create almost theatrical settings in his works based on themes set around San Jorge and one which Manzur admits is a reminiscence of his childhood in Neira. [It should be noted that Manzur´s brother Jaime owns and operates a well-known children’s theater here in Bogota so perhaps this was partly an influence in his creation of this new presentation of his art.]
Neira & St. George (Pastel/Paper – 1983)
Manzur relates that he first remembers those staid yet marvelous but terrorific and never-ending processions set around Easter in his small town of Neira when wooden images dressed with brilliant silks and velvets were paraded around the town. Something which later would remind him of the religious works of the Flemish painters of centuries past.
One of Manzur´s themes that began in the mid 80´s was his affair with the image of San Sebastian. Works of huge proportion covering six square meters of canvas painted in oils and taking several years to produce reflecting the analytical pauses that Manzur requires to take in his autocritical study and detailed studied process of working.
San Sebastian (Oil on Canvas 1984-86)
The works from this period are so much different form his twisted and sometimes tormented San Jorge´s. The San Sebastians created with an apparent yet measured simplicity evoke – apart from a martyric sensibility – sympathy with the central character of the work.
Hwowever as these works progressed and Manzur started to develop the theme through his more usual medium of pastel on paper they have taken on a greater sense of terror – of horror even. many of these images have tended towards presenting a disturbed or troubled mind. Had they not been created by this always serene Master one would almost deny their existence. So why did they occur?
I can only presume, but many of them were developed while Manzur took part in the committee that looked to reconcile the Colombian FARC guerrilla (before they became terrorist after 2001) . He traveled to the jungle to meet with them several times and although he always maintains his calms composure perhaps this episode caused him difficulty to reconcile internally and so it translated itself to his art.
The Martyrdom of Sebastian
(Acrylic /Charcoal on Paper – 2000)
In any case, some of the most horrific works were created around 2004 – 2005 a period in which Colombia itself was starting to show great improvements and was generally much more peaceful. As such one can only surmise that what is depicted comes from deep inside the artists being and as such only he can really say why he came to express such torment and rage in a subject that initially had begun presenting a calmness and solitude.
Sebastian & The Angels
(Pastel/Paper – 2004)
The Martyrdom of Sebastian in Auschwitz
(Oil/Acrylic on Canvas – 2005)
Prices and Values
Manzur is a meticulous and very detailed artist and follows in the tradition of those who define a clear time period in which to labor and complete a work no matter what his emotional state is that day. However, given this he also never shows works to the public that he feels were created while not being able to give his all to that artwork. As such, despite over thirty years now of creating his pastel drawing, only works that he himself accepts are numbered and made available to the general public.
To date, in the first decade of the new millennium there are less than 1800 such drawings created over the last thirty years and perhaps even less available in the open market. Sixty works per year plus a small number of oil and acrylic paintings. Quite a small body of work given that Picasso is said to have left around 18,000 works between drawings and paintings.
The pastel on paper drawings can be obtained from between USD $10,000 and $30,000 depending on the theme and quality of the work and oils on canvas or board can fetch from USD $10,000 up to several USD $100,000. Perhaps due to the small quantity of works available around the world, very few have ever made it to the secondary art market defined by the auction houses and so as such Manzur´s auction record is still quite small. This by itself should ensure that as more works become available in the future we should see some new records being created.
If you want to find out more about international art prices you can check out the transparent sales records of many auction houses via the #1 international site to make this data available at ArtPrice or feel free to write to me if you are interested in purchasing artwork by David Manzur.
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“An artist is mature when he starts to see the defects in his own work
and only time can bring that wisdom.” Manzur