Fernando Montes

Bolivia, 1933


Fernando Montes was born in La Paz, Bolivia in 1930. His father, Hugo Montes, was a prominent lawyer and member of a family who had played a major role in the political life of the country from the late nineteenth century. At the time of his death his father was the leader of the Liberal Party in Bolivia. When Fernando was 7 years old his father was killed in a car accident. His family first went to live with his maternal grandmother, Sarah Minchin. Then, in 1942 they went as a family to live in Buenos Aires and there in the big city, which was at that time the most important cultural centre in South America, he began to study painting. Aged 15, he tried to gain admission to the studio of Vicente Puig. He was told to return when he was 18, but he wanted to start immediately. His grandmother who was the relative who most encouraged his artistic vocation, went to speak to the master. He said that, because there was a nude model in the life class, they did not like to accept very young students. At that time Argentina was a very traditional society. His grandmother with a surprisingly liberal mind assured him that he had her permission and he was accepted. When he finished school in Buenos Aires, he returned to the High Andes to study philosophy at the University of San Andres in La Paz. In 1951 he joined a group of film makers. Jorge Ruiz, a childhood friend and Augusto Roca who were pioneers of the film industry in Bolivia. They journeyed to remote parts of the Altiplano and descended to the rain forest to 300 meters above sea level, where the Moseten tribe of indians lives. From the drawings he made during this trip he worked a series of paintings about this people. After two years of working in films, he took up painting professionally. He painted portraits, nudes and landscapes of the mountains and valleys around La Paz. His first exhibition was in the Municipal Gallery in La Paz, at the time the only permanent gallery in the city. Soon afterwards, he represented Bolivia at the 5th Sâo Paulo Biennial, Brazil. At the same time the Spanish Government awarded Fernando a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. It was quite an experience to have classes in this old and historic building, where Goya had studied. Now it is an art museum that includes in its collection a good number of excellent works by Goya. In 1960, Fernando came to London. Marcela Villegas Sanchez Bustamante, whom he had known from Bolivia, was at that time living in London. She became his wife six months later. They settled in London, during the Belle Epoch of the sixties, and he had his first one man exhibition outside Bolivia. The paintings were portraits, London cityscapes and paintings of people in London pubs. The pub paintings were a way of exploring inner London and human relationships in this environment. They gave him the chance to use the human figure, which has always fascinated him. Fernando started to work on a series of paintings on the landscape of the Altiplano and its people, exploring the relationship between the Indians and the Altiplano. Previously his landscapes had depicted specific locations; now his work focused on the essence of the relationship between the human being and the land. His work was recognized in 1973, when he was invited to participate in an exhibition entitled ‘Bolivian Contemporary Painters’ at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Artworks by Fernando Montes

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