David Montenegro, one of Enrique Montenegro´s sons, did a series of interviews with his father, where the artist talks about his life and works. These insightful interviews are revelatory of the painter´s journey and of his skill as a teacher who opens the eyes of young artists to the infinite possibilities of perception. Here we present a brief excerpt of one of those interviews.
DAVID: How about when using color? If the drawing changes, as you say, in an interior, doesn’t this also mean that the freedom to use color changes when moving from an interior to a landscape?
ENRIQUE: Well, again, one of the reasons I like to go into a landscape is the freedom it affords, because you can be much more expansive in landscape, even in the use of color. You can paint green sky – there are green skies here in New Mexico, anyway – and it kind of frees you color-wise, too. Whereas in an interior, you feel more restricted, and after doing some landscapes you find – at least I do – that it’s liberated me to be a little bolder, maybe. In some of those black interiors, I made some of the faces kind of green, others kind of red, because landscape has taught me to let go. I think landscape does kind of loosen you up and free you in color as well as in texture, strokes, and so on.
I notice Cézanne would move from landscape to interior to faces. I don’t know in what way he did this, but I’m sure he did one theme as against the other for change, for fresh change. Also maybe he used some of the things he gathered in a landscape by applying them later to the face or to a still life, which are more demanding in structure. I imagine he didn’t waste anything.
DAVID: And did the landscape in Texas when we lived there affect the way you approach the canvas? Did you break a certain boundary there?
ENRIQUE: Yes, I think the light affected me there. The first thing that hits you in going to Texas is the intense light, which you have here in New Mexico, too, but in Texas it is even more intense. The difference in Texas is that there is much more green; there are more trees and grass so there’s not only intense light but very bright color. Here you have less bright color but you have the light. After coming from the East, the intensity of the light in Austin nearly blinds you at first. And, no doubt, it affects your pictures, it brightens up your pictures immediately.
DAVID: It makes them more vivid, more vibrant?
ENRIQUE: More vibrant, yes. And here of course it’s space, too. The first things that hit you in New Mexico are the light and space and the effect they cause in shadows. Like I say sometimes, you can cut your finger on a shadow here, it’s so sharp. I think in the East things are softer, darker. So it is an exposure here that changes you, and maybe in turn this affects how you handle an interior or a face or some other subject. I think there’s no doubt about it.
DAVID: So the southwest’s light changed your eye and your mood, and pushed you in a new direction?
ENRIQUE: Yes, I think everybody is influenced, whether they know it or not, by their surroundings, which seep into everything you do. Your colors, too – the way you’re aware of them changes. And before you know it you begin to reflect this in your work. I think, to one degree or another, locality has a strong effect on all artists.
One example I’ll give you is when we lived in Pennsylvania. After we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania – I didn’t even realize this, but Sara pointed it out to me – my pictures became very dark. At the time, maybe I thought it was the themes I was doing, the street scenes, using pavements and the cement and all that. Maybe I thought that was why my pictures were becoming gray and dark. But I realize now, as she pointed out, that it was the climate there – less sun, less light. And when I look at them now, I notice that my pictures from Pennsylvania are much darker, more somber that the ones done in Texas. And I think that change was natural.
DAVID: Then the move from the southwest to Pennsylvania affected your mood?
ENRIQUE: Oh, sure. And that, I think, is normal and what’s to be expected in most artists. O’Keeffe is an example of this. When she moved from New York to New Mexico her work changes. I can think of a lot of other examples – artists in the Impressionist period Like Delacroix, for instance. He kind of broke the ice when he went to Morocco, and was so dazzled by the colors of North Africa – which I imagine are somewhat like New Mexico’s. The light and space and the colors people wore there were so bright that when he came back to France, he had changed all his color palette. He began to liven up colors, brighten complementaries, and without realizing it, he must have affected a lot of other artists. They suddenly realized that you could paint very brightly, which they hadn’t done before. In Europe, which is gloomier, pictures were much more subdued. Take the Renaissance artists – you know, browns and grays. Even primary colors were soft at the time. But when Delacroix came back from North Africa he dazzled the artists, and that’s why you notice that many of the Impressionists praise him, though he looks kind of academic to us now. And when Matisse in turn years later went to North Africa, the same thing happened: he discovered color and light. When he came back – well everybody knows this – he became one of the great colorists of the world. So I think it was that exposure to North Africa that started Matisse off. And he in turn influenced art in Europe and all over the world.
For the complete interviews, here is the link to the e-book by David Montenegro:
Enrique Montenegro: Conversations with the Artist