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Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Painting our inheritance

Staff writer

Traveling to 46 World Heritage cities in 18 countries is impressive enough on its own, but painting them is another thing entirely. Yet, Ecuador's noted contemporary painter Oswaldo Munoz Marino has done just that.

News photo
"Main Door of San Juan Church, Quito" (top, 1990) by Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Muñoz Mariño
News photo

Marino came to Tokyo last week for an exhibition held to coincide with the visit of Dr. Gustavo Noboa, the president of the Republic of Ecuador.

On show are 30 watercolors of various sites in UNESCO-designated World Heritage cities -- from the streets of Quito to a Budapest cathedral -- which have been displayed all over the world. They include six paintings of Tokyo -- depicting, among others, the Imperial Palace, Asakusa Temple, Kabukiza and Hibiya Park.

"I've always loved Japan," says Marino with a smile. "I feel proud and happy to be back here."

When Marino, 78, first visited Japan 10 years ago, he painted scenes of not only Tokyo, but also Nara, Kyoto and Aomori (although the latter is not a World Heritage city) during his one-month stay. "In the future, I need lots more time to paint all of Japan's 11 World Heritage cities," he said.

According to Marino, his paintings have a message to convey: "Love your own country."

With a sharp eye for detail and a delicate sensibility, Marino captures the subtlest of nuances in his paintings. Whether his subject is a well-known historical monument -- such as the Taj Mahal in Agra -- Tokyo's Meiji Shrine, or just a street corner, his works communicate the vibrant atmosphere of a large city. He uses subtle colors, often soft gradations of blue, green and brown, to harmoniously blend buildings with their natural surroundings.

One of Mexico's greatest artists, David Alfaro Siqueiros, commended Marino's ability to get air into his paintings, to create atmosphere and uncover a scene's personality. Indeed, one can almost feel a gentle and serene breeze blowing through his works.

Marino's pictures of buildings are all perfectly proportioned. He says that he sees the buildings and starts drawing them straight away.

This innate sense of scale owes much to Marino's early career as an architect. After graduating from Mexico's Escuela Nacional Autonoma in 1953, he worked as an architect in a number of South American cities, including Quito and Mexico City. He went on to win several international architecture contests, one of his most daring designs being that proposed for the Municipal Palace of Quito. (It remains an idea on paper, because it was too avant-garde and expensive to execute). He also taught architecture at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico for 22 years, from 1948 to 1970.

Marino embarked upon his artistic career by painting Quito (where he now lives), one of the first designated World Heritage cities. It was his first attempt at chronicling graphically the process of a city's urban development. Again, his knowledge of architecture was put to good use.

Marino, who says that he will be an architect until the day he dies, says that architecture and art go hand in hand. "You cannot be an architect unless you're an artist.

"If I hadn't been an architect, I wouldn't have known what I was painting. I know the structure of a building and the effect that the light has on it, and so on, which has made all the difference. I think people enjoy my paintings, because I can depict these things."

"Quito, Tokyo and the World Heritage Cities," runs till April 7 at Hokuto Room, Hotel New Otani, Main Bldg. 16F. The Japan Times is one of the sponsors of the show.

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