The Early Period: Ventanas and Atmosferas
Ventanas and Atmosferas are two series of paintings created by Ana Mercedes Hoyos in the end of the 1960s, early1970s. In this period, the artist’s work is characterized by a strict adherence to logic and order, as well as a deliberate lack of emotion. The resulting pieces have smooth surfaces and a coldness that reflects the artist’s decision not to become emotionally involved in the subject matter. In the Ventanas collection, this style result in the use vertical and horizontal lines to frame abstract landscapes in small, square paintings. The window in these paintings served as a device to freeze a moment in time, with the frame symbolizing the separation between internal and external reality. At this point, Hoyos style become more obscure and abstract with each painting.
In her later works, such as the Atmósferas series, Hoyos abandoned the window frame entirely to explore the expanse of light through the use of alternating layers of various colors, each followed by a white layer. This technique allowed her to focus on the depths of color within light.
This series led to her success in the 27th National Salon of Visual Artists in 1978. The recognition she received led to international exposure and invitations to participate in exhibitions such as “GeometríaSensível” with other Latin American artists at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro.
Ana Mercedes Hoyos's Still Life Paintings
Ana Mercedes Hoyos ventured into a new artistic direction by creating a series of floral and fruit works. In this series, she focused on the flower head of sunflowers, removing most of the petals to emphasize its circular form, thus retaining the reductionist and abstract spirit of her earlier paintings. She craved to explore the sensuality of the earth’s abundance by eliminating spatial references and highlighting the flower itself.
Hoyos’ approach to flower depictions bears similarities to that of Georgia O’Keefe. Both artists use flowers to symbolize sexual allusions and to embody the beauty, vitality, and energy of the universe. Furthermore, both artists don’t employ varied impasto or modulated brush-stroke, which results in a single and uniform texture that covers the surface with the same degree of saturation and finish.
The Columbian, then, dedicated time to the study of past centuries’ art, reinterpreting the works of important masters until she arrived at Caravaggio, who she believed represented the origin of great changes in art. Hoyos focused on Caravaggio’s “Basket of Fruit,” using it as subject matter for her own reworking in a strikingly large scale. For Hoyos, flowers and fruits are allegories for life and have become products of the earth, “attached to the soil.” In this way, Hoyos consummates a Latin American appropriation of European color, transmuting the spiritual yellow of Van Gogh into the earthy yellow of everyday tropical life, avenging the appropriation of Latin America soil by the Europeans.
Though her paintings fall within the Latin American tradition of still lifes, Ana Mercedes Hoyos does not conform to traditional still life painting practices. She uses photography as a memory aid and often combining more photographs into her paintings like a collage. Her still lifes are also unique in that they are often represented outdoors and simplified geometrically while maintaining a sense of realism. The most significant difference between her work and traditional still lifes is that her compositions are not consciously arranged by the artist but instead reflect the palenqueras’ careful placement of fruits and adherence to ancestral directives of color, texture, and flavor. This attention to detail and the palenqueras’ dishes reveals much about their culture, traditions, and society.
Freedom and Culture in Ana Mercedes Hoyos’ Art
The artist slowly incorporated the Palenqueras in her paintings. At the beginning, they were only details such as hands, feet, and clothing, which competed with the vibrant fruits in her still life images. This inclusion enriched the meaning of her artwork, prompting consideration of the role and work of these women in society. With time and through her paintings, the artist became fascinated with the way of life of the palenqueras and their town, San Basilio de Palenque, which was founded by runaway slaves and known for its cultural richness and independence.
Colour and Symbolism in Hoyos' paintings
Ana Mercedes Hoyos is an artist who uses color in a unique way, incorporating it into her representational lines, forms, and contours. She handles paint transparently, leaving a smooth surface that allows viewers to appreciate colors in their purest form. Like Matisse, Hoyos uses strong and bright colors as an effort to free herself from the prejudices that associated tonality with moral rectitude and pure color with irresponsibility. Moreover, she uses pure color, unmodified by tonal restrictions, in a way that establishes an ordering by color. Hoyos’ palette includes gray, which she employs in a unique way to create a soft effect in her paintings.
The artist uses the fruit as a symbol of sensuality, something recurrent in art of various currents. Ana Mercedes Hoyos uses a soft touch, though, avoiding in-depth realism in her pursuit of a new hyper-realism. This approach allows fruit to become emblematic. The knife is a symbol that recurs in her work, representing both a tool of work that enables the polenqueros to earn a living and a phallic symbol penetrates the fruit, which evoke the female genitals. Breasts are symbolized by the forms of apples, peaches, and fruits in general.
Hoyos also paints feminine figures and Black people, recognizing the cultural and social aspects of sex and using Black figures to refer to relations of power and the subordinate position of the feminine and Black. All of her women have large breasts and very maternal bodies, associated with feeding and nurturing like a mother.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Hoyos’s work is her ability to convey a strong sense of Colombian identity and culture. Hoyos’ still lifes can be seen as a recognition of the tropics and their magnificence, but she was also aware of the sociological implications of the palenqueras’ dishes, as they are a testimony to traditions, preferences, and tastes that speak of a society and their vibrant and unique culture
Through her art, she celebrates the beauty and richness of Colombia’s culture and highlights the importance of preserving it for future generations.
Legacy and Recognition
Considered a pioneer of Modern Art in Colombia, Ana Mercedes Hoyos was awarded 17 prizes nationally and internationally.
Hoyos’ paintings have also been sold at auction multiple times, with prices ranging from $175 to $245,000, depending on the size and medium of the artwork.
The highest price ever achieved for one of Hoyos’ pieces at auction was $245,000, which was paid for “MURAL IN THREE PARTS” at Sotheby’s New York in 2014. However, auction prices can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the rarity, quality, and historical significance of the artwork, as well as demand from collectors and institutions.
Interestingly, Hoyos’ work appears to be highly valued at Christie’s Auctions, where many of her paintings have sold for tens of thousands of dollars. For example, in 2018, her painting “Bodegón de Palenque” sold for $221,500, far surpassing the estimated price of $60,000 to $80,000. It seems that paintings are her most sought-after pieces, while sculptures tend to sell for less.
Before her death in July 2014, Hoyos arranged for her collection of artifacts related to the palenqueros to be donated to the United Nations University in Tokyo, with a smaller portion going to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which houses the Smithsonian’s collection of African-American history.
Ana Mercedes Hoyos: Celebrating Colombian Culture through Art
Ana Mercedes Hoyos was an artist known for her unique language and identity, combining geometric abstraction with cultural symbolism and vibrant colors. Her early works in the Ventanas and Atmosferas series were characterized by a strict adherence to logic and order, while her later still life paintings focused on flowers and fruits, embodying the beauty and sensuality of the earth’s abundance. Her love and admirations of the Palenque people, and especially with the Palenqueras, led her to depict them in her paintings as a symbol of freedom and pride. She showcased their dignity, culture, and costumes, fascinated by the beauty and resilience of the Palenqueras. Throughout her career, Hoyos demonstrated a deep understanding of color and symbolism, highlighting the rich cultural heritage of Latin America and Colombia. Her art is a true celebration of her country and its people, making her a beloved and influential figure in the Colombian art world.