The Art of Living

The Art of Living

Imke Rust talks to the Venezuelan Chargé d’Affaires about collecting art.

Published: Big Issue, July 2004

Meeting with the Chargé d’Affaires of Venezuela in Namibia, Mr Abraham Quintero, was an adventure of the senses. I came to see his art collection and find out more about his passion for art and I found that art is but one of many passions.

From smelling the lavender and basil in his herb garden, to sipping Assam Tea from India, served in a beautiful antique teapot, bought in Long Street, Cape Town to exchanging thoughts on religion, politics, good food and music, the meeting became a tour of the pleasures of the soul.

Quintero, who has a degree in Mass Media as well as one in International Relations, has been in the diplomatic services of his country since 1979. He has been stationed in Guyana, Haiti and Canada and will soon be leaving Namibia to continue his career in Austria.

As a young child he used to love painting. He remembers one event fondly and tells it with a naughty smile: “Once, when I was about five, I took one look at my aunts ironing board and decided it would be the perfect canvas for a drawing of a Zeppelin, which filled the whole space. It was a beautiful drawing, with all details added, people hanging in the ropes of the Zeppelin, waving out of the windows… unfortunately my aunt was not pleased at all.” Quintero never fully explored his artistic talent and decided to rather surround himself with selected art from other artists. He found another delicious outlet for his creative energy and taste buds. namely cooking, where food is the medium and the kitchen his ‘studio’.

During his studies he started reading many books on art. Quintero also had the opportunity to see world-class art at the New Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas, the Museum of Interactive Art, which is dedicated exclusively to Edward Soto, a well-known leader in Kinetic art or at the Central University, a Unesco Monument, where the architect integrated many artworks by local and international renowned artists, like Leger, Arp and Vasarely.

“The first work I bought was a little etching by Mateo Manaure, a Venezuelan artist working in the cubist tradition.” Quintero remembers, and from there his collection grew to include a wide variety of artists from different countries. According to Quintero art is the food of the soul and needs to give their owners pleasure and improve the quality of their lives: “If humans only look after their basic animal needs and do not strive to recognise and fulfil their spiritual needs, society has failed. Education, culture and religion are important factors that make us human, and so is our addiction to pleasure, may they be chemical, sensual or emotional by nature.”

Quintero proudly presents his Namibian collection. “Where other foreigners come to hunt for trophies of the Big Five, I search for beautiful art with which I can surround myself. I collect works in which I believe I can see the artist’s soul or recognise a part of my own.” Generally he likes art: “… which makes a statement, and looks for strength and simplicity in the composition and application of medium.” Most importantly one must be able to live with the art, some works are too big or too powerful to hang in a home. Those works should be bought by and displayed in corporate or institutional environment. “I also do not believe in collecting signatures or buying art which has to be stored in some vault and one cannot enjoy them on a daily basis.”

This is apparent in his eclectic choice of works. Most works in his collection are by young Namibian artists, who are not yet established, but show promising talent. Many of the works make a strong statement, like Herman Mbamba’s “Namibian Verdict”. It is a highly political and social comment showing a hangman’s rope with a figure in the background and a hand bound with a red ribbon, which has become a very personal symbol in Mbamba’s art. The words Namibia’s Verdict are collaged over the rope. Mbamba’s use of writing in his art makes the work’s message clearer and more uncompromising, but still leaves enough space for the viewer’s own interpretation. Unlike many other Namibian artists, he works with a simple and striking composition, with bold colours, which are sparingly and subtly applied.

Other examples are the work by Samuel Mbingilo “Different Culture, one family, one love”, with a beautiful message of unity and hope, or Hercules Viljoen’s “Monument to Evolution”, an exquisite drawing of a bonelike structure which seems to be transforming itself into a leg. The lines move from the lower constrained bone structure upwards, growing into stronger lines filled with energy and life. The upper part is left incomplete, yet indicating it’s growth and shape, reminding us that evolution is a process and not complete.

He also has several works of Namibian landscapes, but these are not the everyday romantic landscapes. One can always expect a twist, like the colourful and mystical semi-abstract representation of the Spitzkoppe by Pierre van der Westhuizen or Pedro Vorster’s “Giraffe Bird”, which is a unique painting, combining elements of ancient rock art and surrealism.

“Namibians should support their own artists. Businesses, politicians and professional individuals should set the example by investing in the national patrimony, of which culture forms an important part. And one should embrace the modern culture as well as the traditional one. Today’s artists play an important role in the creation of Namibia’s unique identity.” To explain that supporting the visual artists is not that expensive, Quintero says that for the price of a suit, a pair of good shoes or a braai and drinks with friends one can easily afford an original piece of art by a Namibian artist.

He says it is important for anybody who wants to invest in art, to educate him or herself. Read books on art, visit exhibitions regularly and discuss works with friends or people involved in the arts. One has to train your eye to recognise the beauty in a work and distinguish between ‘pretty pictures’ and a real piece of art. And finally, “Namibian art is still very affordable, so start investing in it now.”

(c) Imke Rust

Namibian artists represented in Quintero’s collection:

Hercules Viljoen, Max Edison, Samuel Mbingilo, Imke Rust, Pedro Vorster, Ndasuunje Shikongeni, Nicky Marais, Ziggy Martin, Barbara Pirron, Trudi Dicks, Archie van der Ploeg, John Nampala, Pierre v.d. Westhuizen, Herman Mbamba, Susan Mitchinson, Shiya Karuseb, Hester van Schouwenburg, Andrew van Wyk, Josia Shikongo, Paul Kiddo.

Quintero’s advice for buying art:

  • Does the work please you?
  • Can you live with it forever?
  • Is the artist consistent in his work? Is it in line with the artist’s evolution?
  • Is the composition simple and strong?
  • Inform yourself about art and the artists through books and by visiting the galleries or artists.
  • Buy now, because Namibian art is still cheap!

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