Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI GARDENS | At first look, the large-format oil paintings merely show street scenes: vendors, street singers, an organ grinder. But look closer: You'll see religious medals and pictures of saints.
Looking closer yet, you may see hope, sadness, perhaps even a reverie in things as common as selling tamales or singing on a street corner.
The oil canvases are the work of Hugo Orezzoli, recalling the colorful streets of the Lima of his boyhood. He sees himself not so much as an artist as a visual documentarian.
“If you call me an artist, I’ll say ‘Thank you,’ ” the Miami resident said as his show opened Jan. 24 at the museum. “But I think of myself as a storyteller.”
The pictures accurately show the messiness of street life in the Jesus Maria neighborhood of Lima, Peru, where Orezzoli grew up. Guitarists sing, vendors smile, women march solemnly in a religious procession. He relates it to Criollismo, a set of customs and traditions in Latin American culture.
STORIES IN PICTURES
Each of the paintings tells a story:
- An emolientero cradling two bottles on his arms as he mixes a hot herbal tonic.
- A street vendor frying donut-likepicarones, her face lighted by the charcoal of her own fire.
- An organ grinder and an ice cream man scoping out the street for customers.
- A guitarist and cajon player, their eyes closed as they sing and play at a nighttime street corner.
Orezzoli’s style has been compared to that of Pancho Fierro, a 19th century Peruvian artist. Fierro painted in the costumbrismo style, a blend of realistic and romantic art dating to 19th century Spain and Latin America. The genre shuns big events and heroic subjects in favor of common folks and everyday life.
The STU art show was born when museum coordinator Isabel Medina was searching online. She was seeking materials on the Lord of Miracles, a festival held in Peru every October. She came across Orezzoli’s painting on the annual parade in Lima, then fell in love with his other art as well.
“For me it’s emotional,” said Medina, a Peruvian-American herself. “I travel back to my childhood when I look at his paintings.”
Orezzoli returned the warmth, donating a full-size print of the picture to the Favalora museum.
CELEBRATING A MIRACLE
Among the 38 people at the opening was David Hurtado Fudinaga, Miami-based deputy general consul of Peru. He said Orezzoli’s art accurately depicts Lima.
“It’s amazing,” Fudinaga said. “I love the color, the drama, the different races — that's Peru today.”
The paintings also drew the admiration of Emilio Hector Rodriguez, who himself contributed to an art show at STU in 2017. He noted how the paintings reflect the identity of Orezzoli’s homeland.
“It’s very important in the world of an artist,” he said. “Wherever you are, you keep your country in your heart.”
Religious touches in the paintings are likewise filtered through the commonplace. Churches may not abound in Orezzoli’s pictures. But in nearly every scene — on a wall or a blouse — is an image of someone like St. Martin de Porres or St. Rose of Lima.
Or the so-called Purple Christ, carried in procession during El Señor de Los Milagros, or The Lord of Miracles. The festival celebrates a 17th century miracle when an earthquake caused widespread destruction, but left undamaged a wall with a painted crucifix.
In Orezzoli’s painting, three veiled women in the lead carry incense, with varying expressions of joy, faith and solemnity. He painted from memory; but a recent October found him back in Lima — and he was “overwhelmed by the emotion,” he said.
Some of the folk religion is superstition, Orezzoli says frankly: a hope that a saint will protect them and help them prosper. “Religion is a big part of the culture, especially in the lower-middle class.”
STU president David Armstrong, who was in the audience for the opening, praised the art show for putting a face on Catholic art and values.
“We have a great history in the Church of wonderful artists — glass, tapestry, bas-reliefs,” said Armstrong, in his first year at the university. “If there is anything about being Catholic, it’s the value of life. That's expressed in Hugo’s art.”
Not all of the art is serious, though. Orezzoli pointed to a bus picture, where the faces could furnish material for a sitcom. One passenger reads his newspaper as another reads it over his shoulder. One pretends to sleep (to avoid giving up his seat, Orezzoli said). And a mysterious hand is seen picking a pocket.
SAINT OF THE UNLOVED?
Orezzoli pointed to a wall of the bus, bearing a portrait of Sarita Colonia. Although she is not canonized, many Peruvians revere her as a saint — patron of cabbies, bus drivers and criminals.
“She is the saint of the ones who aren't loved by other saints,” said Orezzoli, who attends St. Rose of Lima Church in Miami Shores. He added with a smile: “So she protects the bus driver and the man taking the wallet — but not the man whose wallet is being taken.”
Orezzoli, 54, says he was an accidental artist. Coming to America at 19, he attended what is now Missouri State University, Springfield. He then took up a career in advertising, which he continued after moving to Miami in 1996.
He stretched his own artistic skills by painting murals in a restaurant he and his wife started. They lost the restaurant during the national recession of 2008. But he's philosophical about it: “If I hadn't lost the restaurant, I wouldn't have started painting.”
Orezzoli continued in commercial art, becoming the creative director of an ad agency, while painting his pictures on the side. While he paints, Orezzoli plays flamenco and, oddly, requiems. “I think creativity comes from sadness,” he said.
He confessed he's actually afraid as he paints. “When you see how people look at your work, you don’t want to fail,” he said. “It’s a good fear to have. You feel a responsibility to do it right.”
And after he paints, he needs a break — usually with some Jack Daniels, he said.
IF YOU GO
- Event: Art show, “Hugo Orezzoli’s Portraits of Criollismo”.
- Featuring: Pictures of folk culture from Orezzoli’s childhood in Lima, Peru.
- When: Through May 31.
- Where: Archbishop John C. Favalora Archive & Museum at St. Thomas University, 16401 NW 37th Ave., Miami Gardens.
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday for groups by appointment only.
- Cost: Free.
- Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-628-6769.