Myth, anthropology and eroticism
Painter, Christian Bendayán, was born in Iquitos, the most important city in the Peruvian Amazon. Today, his work is completely immersed with the experiences from this one-of-a kind place. In his contribution to the evolution of Amazonian Art he brings together influences that are both stylistically opposing and opposing from a socio-cultural point of view.
You can’t get to Iquitos without getting on a plane or boarding a ship to sail the muddy waters of the Amazon. About one thousand kilometers separate the Peruvian metropolis –the central hub of life in the country– from this important river port linked to where three rivers converge, right in the middle of the jungle. However, the separation seems to be much more profound: the fresh waters that surround it and the lush foliage covering it have left a social, cultural and traditional footprint that couldn’t be erased by urbanization.
Christian decided to depict that ambiguous, real and magical, contemporary and secular, tragic and oneiric atmosphere. It is the osmosis between the mud that comes from the big river and the beer that psychedelically foams up in many of the city’s nightclubs; it is a union between the mythological indigenous eroticism oozing from the trees and the excessive sexuality that saturates the mass parties in Iquitos. The mix between the legendary mermaids that, according to natives, inhabit the waters of the Amazon and the multitude of prostitutes in the region’s most important commercial scale. Christian imagines, or probably recalls that, “A light rain fell, because in a city as hot as this one, just a little bit of cold air in the environment makes everyone hole up in bed. Therefore, it was like a sieve that sifted out the weirdest things. In the street, will be there just a few people, bearing their stories. That’s why it is a good time to walk around with a camera, talk to some strangers, and share the solitude. It is a good starting point for a painting.”
Generally, Christian paints people who has already photographed. Friends or people that he is meeting in the street, how it happened; in 2007, for example, in the portrait series that he called Domingo de Ramos. “I called it that the seven people that I painted, I had met them in just one day, Palm Sunday. Through that, I showed the possibilities that Iquitos gives me to meet and recognize people,” says the artist. And there they are: a Single mother, an Errand boy, a Pirate, Carmen and an Old blind lady, who are definitely some of the people that, in spite of the rain, will always be outside.
However, since 2010, Christian’s poetical artistry evolved towards a dimension that is more conscious than what he used to depict once he realized how Iquitos is a city that can only survive in the present. In his words: “It is as if time doesn’t exist.” That is why he felt the need to revisit the history, tradition and legacy that make up the socio-cultural foundations of Iquito and the Amazon region in order to fully understand what he had been painting for more than a decade. everyday portraits of modern-day Iquitos. “That is how both archival images and pieces of art from the past started to lead me to different issues that I incorporated into painting. Based on those ideas; I sought out people that could communicate these historical backstories.”
This seems to be the sublimation of the so-called (new) Amazonian Art. It is a production where instincts and influences that are considered as opposed. From Shamanism and mythology to symbolism to social reality. From the bright colors typical to murals to the psychedelics of the late-night neon signs that that light up the streets of Iquitos.
On one hand, Christian implements a production style that is identifiable with a realist, photographic style and social denouncement characterized by a brushstoke that verges on anthropological research; on the other hand, undoubtedly, the painter unexpectedly takes part in his depictions through a symbolic/mythological barrage of yesteryear that takes the images to a level much closer to the hallucinated ecstasy brought on by ayahuasca and the constant Reguetón parties smothered by the humidity of the jungle. The result is an overflow of obvious eroticism, always suspended between fragile carelessness, youthful naivety and a profoundly malicious and sexually frenetic attitude, where the Amazonian world view is paired with the most modern urban entertainment: the beautiful and ideal body of a young woman lies mischievously nude on the dance floor of a oneiric and fluorescent nightclub, while a bluish anaconda slithers around its beauty. “I grew up in a space where homosexuality is an element that is present in every detail. The jungle, in its very nature, is a space of constant reproduction, thus its cities have, when they’re not sensuous, a luxurious quality, –explains Christian. The main meaning of my work stems from joy. Seeing a painting should be as fun as dancing reguetón. In my paintings I don’t look for beauty, I look for joy. The joy of screaming, of showing something, of waking up, of being aroused.”
Currently, Christian Bendayán lives in Lima and when he enters his studio. He makes work that is different from what he used to make on the street. The artist says, “I usually paint in oil on canvas based on digital sketches that I make with various images. Sometimes I use more than 30 pictures taken at different times in my life. These are usually combined with historical archival images. After this, I make all the modifications that I can on the actual painting itself.”
In a nutshell, his pieces, which were obtained thanks to a long creative career in research, recovering, production, learning, and exhibition, are combinations of scenarios and feelings that end up representing the multifaceted and osmotic world of Iquitos. It is a world where, according to the New York Times, “the surreal is simply real.”