by Liliana Hermosilla Rosenthal and Joel Rosenthal, Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
The Coronavirus pandemic has made me appreciate more than ever the contribution that my late Uncle Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez (Chile: 1905-1991), known as “the father of Chilean realist printmaking,” made during his lifetime. Surrounded by his powerful prints, my husband Joel Rosenthal and I dedicated ourselves some years ago to bringing his story and his art and poetry to the consciousness of an English viewing audience by displaying and donating the several hundred prints and related works of art that he personally gave us from the mid-1970s until 1991 when he died.
Tio Carlos was my father’s older brother and a major figure in Chilean art. He was a founding professor of the Escuela de Bellas Artes, renamed the University of Playa Ancha during the Augusto Pinochet years of military dictatorship, in Viña del Mar, Chile, where he labored tirelessly on behalf of his loving students for 34 years. Winner of approximately 50 awards and honors during his lifetime for his social contributions as well as his artistic achievements, he retired from teaching following the military coup in 1973, but continued with his art and poetry, which previously had been a secondary, but early interest.
Tio Carlos displayed a talent for art at a very young age. His studies were interrupted by illness, decalcification caused by bone tuberculosis, and he lost his left hand and his right leg to amputation, and some hearing as well. It is reported that he had 18 operations during this early period of his life. However, he persevered and committed himself to a career in the teaching of art. It is difficult to comprehend the psychological – let alone physical – impact of this illness. I have always wondered where he drew the strength to overcome his physical limitations to become a great teacher, artist, and poet. By the time I was born in southern Chile in 1943, he was already a renowned professor of art and drawing and an illustrator.
Insight into his character can be garnered from his poem, Amanecer de Hospital (Dawn in the Hospital), published three years before his death in 1991, but written years before and based on his own experience. The poem originally appeared in 1964 in the Chilean magazine HACI, published by his friend and poet Andrés Sabella. It was originally entitled “Tras un Sol Enarbolado,” but reissued in 1989 as “ENTRE LOS DEDOS DEL VIENTO,” (“THROUGH THE FINGERS OF THE WIND”), a title taken from the poem’s next to last line.
In this poem, Tio Carlos expresses his love for life and his eternal optimism – even in times of personal trauma – qualities which characterized his entire life. In the glowing Prologue to the first edition of the poem, Sabella mentions the multi-faceted nature of Tio Carlos’ professional life as a printer, painter, poet, teacher, and notes that each activity is imbued with a clarity, directness, and generosity toward others.
The poem, which I have translated into English, opens with a line from Chilean poet Carlos Pezoa Véliz (…and as I lay sick alone in bed in a large room…Pezoa Veliz) who also drew upon his own experience. Here is a brief sample:
“High is the window where// my heart //looks through It yearns to see the wings of a new day [. . . . .] //Each hour is a promising message,// each minute a //smile//each second is a petal dancing//each ray of light, a dragonfly//each movement of air a light flower….”
Here we see the reflections of a young man aspiring to a career in art who had not yet embarked upon the formal training which would prepare him for a teaching career. There is neither darkness nor self-pity. There is optimism as well as concern for other patients. This early experience enabled Tio Carlos to capture the suffering of others in his work as reflected, for example, in this print entitled Niño Herido (Hurt Child).
Alleviating the suffering of children was an important goal for Tio Carlos and his wife Tia Marina Pinto, nurse and sculptress.
His sensitivity for children can be seen in many of his prints.
He not only lived a life of concern for others, but he also contributed his time, talent, and money generously to a variety of causes, even though he and Tia Marina were people of modest means. One of his favorite causes was the work of Dr. Leonel Cooper and the Pediatric Society of Valparaiso which focused its efforts in the area of childhood poliomyelitis. As early as 1956, he organized an exhibit at the French Cultural Center of Valparaiso, Chile, with all the proceeds going to the Orthopedic Clinic of Dr. Cooper and the Pediatric Society.
A related subject of his art was people with disabilities. Tio Carlos, himself disabled, drew prints of ordinary people with blindness. He forced viewers to acknowledge that not only could the blind find alternative means of communicating, Ciego Cantor (The Blind Singer) but they could also find love and companionship, as he had with Tia Marina, as depicted in El Ciego y su Mujer (The Blind Man and his Wife).
Tio Carlos acknowledged that he owed a debt of gratitude to others for what he had accomplished. Women were a central part of his life: his mother Maria Isabel Álvarez, his wife Tia Marina, his art instructor, Ana Cortes, at the University in Santiago, and his caregivers. He drew prints of his mother and wife, the latter in a variety of techniques.