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"When I was nine, I was going through one of the trunks where my father's book were stored and discovered a treasure. I found Andrew Loomis' books on drawing, painting and perspective."
"I'm Willy Gutiérrez Huby, born in Lima on September 21, 1955. My father was a military man and a lawyer, however he had that rare artistic sensitivity that can be seen when a person gives an opinion about art. In general, I think the artistic vein in my family was a strong one. My father's brother, José Gutiérrez de las Infantas, was a professor in the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes and one of the best known art restorers in the country. His works are based on customs, current in Lima. Today they are studied and revised by art students.
"Being an artist, I wasn't a regular student in the National School of Fine Arts and received my artistic formation in my uncle's studio between 1975 and 1980. At that time, I was studying architecture at the Ricardo Palma University's School of Architecture and Urbanism in Lima.
"When people ask me when I became conscious of all that surrounded me and the circumstances that have presented themselves, I always reply, 'At the age of four.' And when people ask when my interest in art began, I reply, 'About that same time.' I actually remember holding a baby bottle in one hand and a pencil in the other.
"This caused an accident and only by the grace of God I didn't lose an eye. I was kneeling on a chair by the table, getting ready to draw when I fell and stabbed my face with the pencil. This was perhaps the most dangerous beginning on my life's road of art. After that, my mother hid the pencils, but my father bought me more.
"At home, my father never stopped encouraging me to continue, as he observed that this was not a vocation but a sickness, a necessity, a stubbornness or something of the kind. One day he discovered me drawing a life size horse on the garden wall with the chalks he'd bought me. While Mother worried about getting the wall dirty, Father told her, 'Let him. Let's see how it turns out,' and my Aunt Helen found it entertaining. I remember a round of applause that took me by surprise when I finished. I turned around to see that the three of them had been watching the whole time.
"I think I lost some of my dreams as an artist at the age of seven, when my father died. The wonderful support he'd given me during my brief life has been invaluable. Yet I also realized that, from that moment on, I'd have to walk this long road of art by myself without this encouraging companion who corrected my drawings and urged me to try again when my first drawings didn't turn out well. He was my first teacher, and he'd get me up early to go with him to buy bread. And especially on the weekends, he'd accompany me in my everyday childhood activity – drawing.
"When I was nine, I was going through one of the trunks where my father's book were stored and discovered a treasure. I found Andrew Loomis' books on drawing, painting and perspective, which my father had used for his own drawing and painting. I opened them, and began learning the academic principles. Oh, but Mother and my older sisters didn't approve because the books had pictures of nudes that a boy my age shouldn't see. They took the books away and I had to draw what I had memorized from them. I knew that to perfect my work, I had to study and learn the musculature of the human body to perfection. I knew I had to dominate its habitual positions. But without a teacher or books, how could I? Copying figures from the newspapers wasn't enough, as they were dressed and I could never see what their forms and movements were.
"So I decided to go against my mother's authority and, behind her back, I took out my father's books to copy the images. Often, they didn't come out well and I had to trace them. Then I'd shade them in color to have an idea of the final result. Because I had no place to hide my work, I kept it between the bedsprings and mattress. This became my personal archive where I could edit and correct my mistakes and try again. One fine day, my mother decided to turn the mattresses and surprise! All my incriminating drawings came flying out. Thank God she was a loving mom. She didn't scold me but told me firmly, 'You should not be drawing these things!'
"I was supposed to obey but, as my father always said, 'To achieve something you want, you need a cool head and a warm heart.' So my new strategy was to keep my drawings in my schoolbag where nobody could find them, and my practice continued without my mother's and sisters' knowledge. Until one morning at school when a classmate decided to look through my things and discovered my artwork. This got me into more trouble. I knew that if he showed them to the teacher, they'd call my mother and I'd be a dead man. I let him blackmail me into doing his drawings; in those days, the history teachers had us draw scenes from history to impress the events on our minds. So from then on, I had to do two drawings of each assignment – his and mine. Of course, it didn't take the teachers long to realize the drawings weren't his, and this freed me from the obligation to draw for my classmate.
"I remember when I was 12, El Comercio de Lima newspaper organized a drawing contest for children all over the country. It was a huge disappointment for me. The jury didn't believe the drawings were mine and disqualified me. Disillusioned, I decided that drawing, painting and art were not for me and, one night, I took all my precious drawings from my schoolbag and burned them. I determined I'd stop drawing. Yet my father's words kept resonating in my mind. 'Keep a cool head and a warm heart.'
"What a surprise when the list of winners was published! My mother was indignant. She thought the contest was unfair, not just because I hadn't won, but also because the winning artwork was awful. It was so horrible that the newspaper never launched another such contest due to all the criticism they received. I imagine all the talent that was wasted, children who were as disappointed as I was and who never drew another picture.
"As the saying goes, there's nothing so bad that good can't come of it. Months after the contest, my sister Ana María convinced Mother to finally let me use my father's books. At the time, I was 13 and had become a self-taught artist. In those books, I found the key for learning drawing, painting and perspective. I didn't waste a single moment. Vacations were perfect for shutting myself inside and practicing for six, eight or even ten hours a day without stopping.
"Without meaning to, I discovered that I had learned to do portraits. In 1974, I was in a university translating class when a classmate asked me to do a portrait in pencil. At first, I didn't want to but my pride led me to take the challenge. 'Sit still, read your book, and don't move,' I told him, and soon his face appeared on paper. From that moment, I knew I could do portraits. I was 19 years old.
"Naturally, from the age of 13, I had been painting in oils and watercolor and when I entered the School of Architecture, I was able to pay for my studies by selling artwork. Because I had already mastered perspective, I did very well in the classroom.
"One day in 1975, I took some of my artwork and visited my uncle. I hoped he'd help me correct them. I remember, I got out of the taxi, knocked on his door, and he very seriously looked me over from head to toe. We hadn't seen each other since my father died. I remember when he'd visit us and my father would ask him to correct his own paintings. I found my uncle's use of colors wonderful. It seemed like a hallucination to see the chromatic result he achieved by mixing and superimposing colors, and I was ecstatic with the newly corrected canvas. Now, eleven years later, things had changed. I was a man and my uncle look at me as one, although he seemed a bit surprised. His greeting seemed a bit cold and distant. He didn't invite me in, but asked, 'How are you? What are you studying?' I told him I was in my first year of architecture. Still without smiling, he told me I could come in.
Neither of us realized that we were beginning a new and different relationship from that of uncle and nephew. We both understood that he would be the teacher, and I would be his student.
"This began a new period of understanding art. His critiques were often harsh and sometimes hurt, but I understood that to learn, I had to continue. We worked together for five years during which my career in architecture joined that of art, often stifling my desire for fun and relaxation. I'll never forget those great lessons of my uncle and teacher. Once he asked me 'Do you know when a painter is a real artist? When he dominates drawing. Always remember that everyone in the world has a distinct way of seeing color. But, independently of what you do in art, whether abstract or figurative, a solid and well developed drawing is always the foundation that characterizes an artist. Never forget this.'
"My teacher died the same year as my mother, in 1997. I have not forgotten his lessons. This year (2008), I'll be 53 years old, and I am still faithful to his teachings. I keep a cool head and a warm heart to keep me from becoming disappointed. But above all, I remember that while an artist may have his own unique way of seeing color, fundamentally, his drawing should be very solid. I have never forgotten this."
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