Reading Old Letters
Leyendo unas Cartas Viejas (Reading Old Letters)
Paintings are drawn from the heart, ordered in the head and thence do battle with the sluggishness of the hand, with the lack of skill to materialise them.
Reading Old Letters is the result of an accumulation of nostalgia. Nostalgia for the scent of a Cadiz seaside town awakening my senses: the scent of the sea, barrels and wine impregnating its streets, streets that recall a colonial past.
My thoughts bobble, like the sailboats sheltering in Guadalete on their way towards the sea, with its peculiar and incessant ringing mixed with the quacking of gulls.
I was thirteen, and you a year older. With you we crossed the last section of the river to the edge of the beach, into the fall of dusk to see the setting sun. You liked to see how the wind played, entangling my hair, while I liked to listen to you recite poems, some yours and others not, slipping barefoot in the sand and then struggling to put on my braided grass and cloth slippers which you grabbed by the end of the ankle straps and held them behind your back.
“-When the years pass, no matter what happens, we will always be friends like now, and wherever you are I would like to make you a gift, a rich silken robe, and thus you will shine so handsome in your Spring Fair or any of your painting exhibits …
- Then I will give you a precious piano, so that you will never stop making music, nor do I want you to ever stop writing. It will reach you without a card, and thus only you will know who has sent it.”
From my wonderful friendship with the youngest child of Portuense poet José Luis Tejada remain, in addition to unforgettable memories, a handful of letters from a vast correspondence that we maintained throughout our years of puberty and adolescence, in which he was already expressing himself as the great literary masters, aiming to become an excellent poet like hits father.
These are the letters that I chose to appear on the table. My name and address from those days can be read on them.
The old tin box is an ancient family remembrance that belonged to my great-grandfather, Joaquín Gutierrez de Salazar, a colonel in the Navy Medical Corps living in San Fernando (Cadiz); it had been preserved by his son (my grandfather), and the latter’s oldest daughter, my mother. Curiously enough, it bears my name written in French, one of those whims of destiny or not, because when I received it on loan to me to create this work, it was only once it was already in my hands that I discovered this singular detail.
That box did not come from any of his travels to Cuba or the Philippines, or perhaps it did. It was a gift that he received from a friend and medical colleague, a certain Antonio Minguet Leteron or Minguet Cadet, who lived near Barcelona; I am not quite sure which.
This open box symbolises the unleashed nostalgia of past times and of what can never be.
My grandfather could not enjoy his father, because the latter died when he was only forty days old. Perhaps for that reason he always kept that box as a treasure, for the simple fact of having belonged to his father, and he clung gratefully to his memory and to a legacy of extreme generosity, honesty and humility that he knew how to pass on to whomever he met.
Ah. Aged flavours, the lights of ever. Those brushes worked with a rhythm of understanding for all those months.
“My desire dreams of consolation and my little one,
The bride of the man shipped out
Never took a siesta.”
Thus sang Carlos Cano,
“Heaving, heaving to and fro,
the schooner coming from Sanlúcar
on the tide
is heaving to and fro
on the river.
In January 1999 I met Manuel Rufí Gibert, of the Batik International art gallery in Seville. In an interview held in Hotel Sevilla Congresos, after examining some other photographs of my paintings, he looked me in the eye and told me that he was ready to give in to his intuition and offer me an opportunity. He indicated to me that the next Seville Contemporary Art Fair might possibly have the theme, Ibero-American Contemporary Art Fair, and that he would commit to providing one wall in his stand just for my work, even knowing that I did not have the economic means to pay for it. I was never able to do so more than with my gratitude and personal effort that I always valued fully.
That night, I was kept awake, knowing that my painting was Leyendo unas cartas viejas, in which the furthermost and most recent past and the present had to combine in a nostalgic sequence that opened profound atemporal essences.
How Ibero-American was the joint nexus through those letters arriving from that other continent. Letters from Indians to relatives, friends, fiancées or spouses; from soldiers in distant lands, from sailors,…
There was a time when I myself was “La novia del embarcao” (The bride of the man shipped out), a Merchant Marine Captain from that continent known as America, but that is a story that I will tell another day.
Maria José Aguilar Gutierrez