Luis Alberto Solari, Uruguayan (1918-1993)

Luis Alberto Solari
Luis Solari was born in the city of Fray Bentos, Uruguay, on October 17, 1918. In 1925 his family moved to the country's capital, Montevideo, where he came into sporadic contact with painting and its techniques. In 1932 he met the painter Zoma Baitler, and a year later he joined the Decorative Painting Workshop given at the Escuela Industrial by professor Guillermo Laborde. There, in collaboration with other students, he did stage sets, scenography, and building decoration with large format mural paintings (Hotel Miramar, Casino Municipal, Parque Rodó).

In 1934 he entered Círculo de Bellas Artes de Montevideo where he discovered, among other currents, Post-Impressionism and Symbolism in the painting of Gauguin. He was also attracted by D'Hastrel, Rugendas, Morel, Monvoisin, and the prints of Adolfo Pastor and Carlos González. In 1937 he traveled to study in Buenos Aires, where he got to know the painting of the Argentine masters Pettoruti, Butler, Berni, Quinquela Martín y Spilimbergo. He returned to Fray Bentos, where, among other art-related undertakings he did scenography, decoration, allegorical floats, and parade figures for the city's carnival, an endeavor that would continue over many years. Until 1940 he worked in his spare time in the Veterinary Inspection area at the Anglo meat packing plant during slaughter time, and also traversed the region as a traveling salesman for a store, both of which jobs would be transcendental for his work. It was there that he came in contact with popular adages, superstitious beliefs, and the picturesque "sayings" of Uruguayan country folk.

He began showing professionally at an exhibition of the National Painting, Drawing and Print Salon of Montevideo. In 1941 he received his first major award, the Acquisition Prize at the Municipal Plastic Arts Salon. On May 20, 1944 he married Nora D'Agosto.

In 1948 he began a fundamental stage of his career, taking the carnival as a theme for his work. In 1951 some of his works were included in the Uruguayan contribution to the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. The following year he traveled to Europe on a mission entrusted to him by the Board of Secondary Education, to prepare a comparative report on teaching methods. In Paris he became involved with the Jeune Gravure Contemporaine group. The sculptor Osip Zadkine introduced him, in turn, to the Print Workshop at L'Ecole Superièure de Beaux Arts, directed by the master Edouard Goerg, where he began etching. He also did studies from life at the Grand Chaumière. He saw first-hand the work of masters like Titian and Brueghel, or more recent ones, like Ensor, Klee, Rouault, and one of his favorites, Gauguin. But what most impressed him was the Renaissance painting of the Quattrocento: Van Eyck, Bosch, Dürer, and others.

He returned to Uruguay in 1953, and founded the Taller de Artes Plásticas in Fray Bentos. He participated in 11th Sao Paulo Biennial. In 1955 he won First Prize for Drawing at the National Salon. In the next two years he won the Acquisition Prize of the Municipal Plastic Arts Salon twice in a row. In 1959, during the celebration of the centennial of the city of Fray Bentos, he organized different cultural events, of which the Grupo 8 exhibition was particularly noteworthy. The following year he participated in international shows in Mexico and Switzerland.

In 1961 he returned to Europe. He saw the sketches for Chagall's stained-glass windows shown in Paris, which moved him to undertake collage, to experiment with textures, with informalist resources, to be more imaginative and symbolist. In 1964 he was invited to show at the Visual Arts Division of the Pan-American Union in Washington, DC. In 1965 he decided to settle in Montevideo. He was actively involved in teaching, both in Uruguay and abroad.

In 1967 he traveled to the United States to further his technique at the Pratt Graphics Center, and at the New York Graphics Workshop. Along with Liliana Porter and Luis Camnitzer he began his adventure in metal etching, a technique he would come to handle masterfully. He showed at Zegry Gallery in New York and at Galería La Ruche in Buenos Aires. He won the Merit Award at the 1968 Graphic Artists Exhibition at the Pratt Center, and in 1970 he decided to settle in the United States. Over the following years he would receive various international prizes and would show his work in the Americas and in Europe. In 1974 he moved his studio to Port Washington, Rhode Island. In 1975 he began working on an edition of Aesop's Fables with twenty copper etchings, for the Pascual Fort studio (1975-1979). Over the following years his works were shown increasingly in the United States, Latin America, various European capitals and the Near East.

He resided in Miskenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalem (1981), invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel. This experience led to a revitalization of biblical themes which Solari had already approached at other stages of his artistic life.

In 1986 he returned to Uruguay and in 1989 he held retrospectives at the Municipal Exhibition Hall of Montevideo and at the Blanes Museum. In August 1989 the Solari Museum was opened in Fray Bentos, at a house recycled by the Municipality on the city's main square, which would come to hold an important collection of works. He set up his workshop in Montevideo.

In 1992 a jury appointed by the Ministry of Education and Culture granted him the Plastic Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.

Solari died on October 13, 1993.

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