Venus In A Sci-Fi Setting: The Art Of Bolivian Painter Alfredo Da Silva
14 september 2022 
21 min. read

Venus In A Sci-Fi Setting: The Art Of Bolivian Painter Alfredo Da Silva

Alfredo Da Silva (1935-2020) was a Bolivian painter known for his abstract works blending surrealism and constructivism. Gifted and determined, Da Silva achieved prominence very soon. According to Wikipedia, the artist had his first show at the age of 16. The paintings we're going to examine Da Silva produced mainly in his mid-sixties (2000-2005). Throughout his artistic activity, he was awarded numerous prizes and praised by critics as one of the most remarkable artists of Latin America.

Alfredo Da Silva

Fig. 1. Alfredo Da Silva (elpotosi.net)

 Alfredo Da Silva, Self-portrait, 1986

Fig. 2. Alfredo Da Silva, Self-portrait, 1986 (fineartamerica.com)

Alfredo Da Silva Space Ship print

Fig. 3. Space Ship print, 1979 (fineartamerica.com)

The Young Competitor

Alfredo Da Silva was born in Potosí (southwestern Bolivia). Though there's not much known about the family of the artist, one can learn that his artistic career was driven by competitive relationships with his older brother Hugo Da Silva. Hugo was studying in the local art school, and eight-year-old Alfred started drawing with an aspiration to excel him at fine arts. Initially, he drew only pencil sketches of landscapes and still life because the pencil was the only medium he could afford at that time. In 1951, he entered the Potosí Academy of Fine Arts, then seven years later, moved to Argentina and continued his studies at the Prilidiano Pueyredon Academy of Fine art in Buenos Aires.

 Alfredo Da Silva l Planeta De La Luna

Fig. 4. El Planeta De La Luna, 1986 (fineartamerica.com)

El Nacimiento Del Planeta Venus by SilvaFig. 5.  El Nacimiento Del Planeta Venus (The Birth Of The Planet Venus), 1988 (fineartamerica.com)

 Max Ernst, The Joy Of Life

Fig. 6. For a comparison: left: Max Ernst, The Joy Of Life, 1936 (twitter.com); right: Alexandra Exter, Constructivist design for a Constructivist stage setting for a Tragedy, the 1910s (vam.ac.uk)

 howard da silva The Planet Of Peace

Fig. 7. The Planet Of Peace, 1989 (fineartamerica.com)

 howard da silva Space Encounter #2

Fig. 8. Space Encounter #2, 1986 (fineartamerica.com)

Recognized Abroad

In Argentine, Da Silva learned about abstractionism and became acquainted with painters working in that field. Already in 1959, he won the first prize for his abstract works at the National Salon in Buenos Aires. There, Da Silva was noticed by José Gómez-Sicre, a Cuban lawyer, art critic, and writer, who invited the artist to the United States. As art critic Rigoberto Villarroel Claure states, "Alfredo Da Silva was almost unknown in his own country until he went abroad and won the highest award for a foreign artist at the 1959 National Salon in Buenos Aires" (wikipedia.org). All over the world, he was given prominence primarily as a representative of Bolivian art, while in Bolivia, he achieved recognition because of his popularity abroad.

 howard da silva howard da silva Space Encounter #2

Fig. 9. Irena, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

 howard da silva  Irena, 2007

Fig. 10. Irena, 2007 (fineartamerica.com)

Lucy, 2000 Howard da silva

Fig. 11. Lucy, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

da silva Gladys, 2000Fig. 12. Gladys, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

da silva Gladys, 2000Fig. 13. Gladys, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

 Gilda, 2007 Da Silva

Fig. 14. Gilda, 2007 (fineartamerica.com)

Da Silva Irena, 2000 Fig. 15. Irena, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

Awards And Achievements

Invited by Gómez-Sicre, Da Silva held a solo show at the Pan American Union in Washington, D.C. As we mentioned above, Da Silva was majorly regarded as a Bolivian artist despite the influence of Argentinian art. For instance, Gómez-Sicre ascribes his specificity to his origin, though, as it seems, Da Silva's talent lies in a high ability to acquire all things he could learn and then surpass his teachers (as happened to his brother). In 1962, Da Silva won a grant to study graphic Arts at the Pratt Institute of New York. The following year, he received a fellowship from the Guggenheim FounDation for 1963–1964. At that time, he participated in many group exhibitions in Latin America and abroad: in Finland, Venezuela, Britain, Scotland, and Spain. In 1977, he won the Grand Prize at the II Biennale INBO in La Paz. In the 80s, he worked as a designer and art director for U.S. News & World Report, The World & I, Washington Times Publication. In the 1990s and later, Da Silva worked as a designer for HJB Associates.

Howard da silva Gladys, 2000Fig. 16. Gladys, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

 Irena, 2007 Da Silva

Fig. 17. Irena, 2007 (fineartamerica.com)

Irena, 2000 Howard da silva

Fig. 18. Irena, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

Howard da Silva Gladys, 1999

Fig. 19. Gladys, 1999 (fineartamerica.com)

Natural Genius

The ease with that Da Silva won grants and prizes at a relatively young age (twenties) is astonishing, especially considering the conditions in which he started his artistic way to outdo his brother. Da Silva's early years slightly resemble those of some old masters who produced their first works on the father's workshop floor using a piece of chalk. His self-portrait in a red turban, referring to Renaissance portraiture, can be treated as a manifestation of the artist's subtle similarity to the natural geniuses from the past.

Gladys, 2000 Howard da SilvaFig. 20. Gladys, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

Irena, 2000 Da Silva

Fig. 21. Irena, 2000 (fineartamerica.com)

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Sources: Wikipedia.org; fineartamerica.com; Mariola V. Alvarez, Ana M. Franco. New Geographies of Abstract Art in Postwar Latin America. 2018

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About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
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