By Liliana Hermosilla Rosenthal, Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez (Chile: 1905-1991) was my father’s older brother and a major figure in the history of Chilean art. He was one of the founding professors of the School of Fine Arts, Viña del Mar, Chile, renamed the University of Playa Ancha during the Pinochet years, where he labored tirelessly on behalf of his loving students for approximately 34 years. Winner of 50 awards and honors during his lifetime for his social contributions as well as his artistic achievements, he retired from teaching following the military coup in 1973 but continued with his art and published works of poetry which had been a secondary but early interest.
Tio Carlos displayed a talent for art at a very young age. His studies were interrupted by illness, decalsification caused by bone tuberculosis, and he lost his left hand, his right leg, and some hearing. It is reported that Carlos had many operations during this early period of his life. It is impossible to appreciate the psychological let alone physical impact of this illness which occurred long before I was born. I have always wondered where he drew the strength to overcome his physical limitations to become a great teacher, artist and poet. By the time I was born in southern Chile he was already an established Professor of Art and Drawing, illustrator, and poet.
Insight into his character can be gleaned from his poem Amanecer de Hospital (Dawn in the Hospital) republished three years before his death in 1991 but written years before and based on his own experience. The poem originally appeared in 1964 in the Chilean magazine HACI published by his friend and poet Andrés Sabella, winner of the Chilean National Prize of Poetry. The poem was part of a collection originally entitled “Tras un Sol Enarbolado,” and reissued in 1989 in a publication entitled “ENTRE LOS DEDOS DEL VIENTO,”(“THROUGH THE FINGERS OF THE WIND”) a title taken from the poem’s penultimate line.
The poem radiates tio Carlos’ love for life and his eternal optimism even in times of personal trauma, qualities which characterized his entire life. In the glowing Prologue to the first edition of these poems, Sabella extolled the multi-faceted nature of Carlos’ professional life: printer, painter, poet, teacher and noted that each activity was imbued with a clarity, directness, and generosity toward others. These were aspects of Carlos’ character noted by others over twenty years later.
Amanecer en el Hospital (Dawn in the Hospital), which I have translated into English, opens with a line from Chilean poet Pezoa Véliz “(…and as I lay sick alone in bed in a large room…Pezoa Véliz) who also drew upon his own experience.
High is the window where my heart
It yearns to see the wings of a new day
. . . . .
Each hour is a promising message,
each minute a
each second is a petal flowing
each ray of light, a dragonfly
each movement of air a light flower….
Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez
These are the reflections of a young man aspiring to a career in art who had not yet embarked upon the formal training which would prepare him for an academic career. There is neither darkness nor self pity. There is personal optimism as well as concern for other patients. This early experience enabled Carlos to capture the suffering of others in his work as reflected in this undated print entitled el Niño Herido (Hurt Child) from my personal collection of his work.
Niño Herido (Hurt Child) (etching)
Suffering children were an important subject for Carlos and his wife Marina Pinto, nurse and sculptress, and their sensitivity for children can be seen in many of Carlos’ prints.
Nelida (etching) Portrait of Young Girl (etching)
He lived a life of concern for others. He and his wife contributed their time, talent, and money generously to a variety of causes even though they were people of modest means. One of their favorite causes was the work of Dr. Leonel Cooper and the Pediatric Society of Valparaiso which focused its efforts in the area of childhood poliomyelitis. As early as 1956 Carlos organized an exhibit at the French Cultural Center of Valparaiso with all the proceeds going to Dr. Cooper’s Orthopedic Clinic and the Pediatric Society. Almost twenty years later, after tio Carlos’ retirement following the 1973 coup, my husband and I raised money for his various causes by organizing exhibits of his work in the United States. We also donated prints from our personal collection of his work to various art institutions.
His commitment to a variety of humanitarian causes as well as his teaching and art featuring the people and landscape of his beloved Valparaiso, his city of birth, resulted in his being named an Illustrious Citizen of the City of Viña del Mar in 1965, an Honorary Citizen of the City of Valparaiso (1966), Artist of the People by the University of Chile in Santiago in 1971, an award personally granted by the President of the Republic during a ceremony in Santiago. He was accompanied by Professor René de Costa of the University of Chicago, his friend and scholar, who included tio Carlos’ prints of Pablo Neruda and Vicente Huidobro in his publications The Poetry of Pablo Neruda and Vincente Huidobro; Careers of a Poet.
The life and work of tio Carlos lives on not only in his art and poetry but also in the efforts of those who strive to carry on his beautiful legacy. He has been honored by the naming of an exhibit hall in his name (Sala Hermosilla) at his former university. In 2003 the Universidad Playa Ancha in Viña del Mar, Chile, published a work in Spanish edited by Hugo Rivera entitled CARLOS HERMOSILLA; artista ciudadano Adelantado de grabar (CARLOS HERMOSILLA; Visionary Citizen Artist of Printmaking) which contains a hundred pages of his prints as well as historical and critical analyses. Other publications, also in Spanish, have followed. This past year an annual art contest in his name was established. In England a large number of his prints are available for viewing at the University of Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA). These prints are on loan from Chilean art collector Ruby Reid Thompson and can be accessed by simply typing Carlos Hermosilla at the institution’s website.
However, tio Carlos’ greatest legacy is in the example of his life. He translated his own suffering into empathy and compassion for others. Nowhere is that more evident than in his print el Niño Herado (The Hurt Child) and in his poem Amanecer de Hospital (Dawn in the Hospital).
AMANECER DE HOSPITAL
( … y pues solo en amplia pieza yazgo en cama yazgo enfermo …Pezoa Véliz.)
Alta es la ventana por donde el corazón se asoma
quiere ver las alas de una nueva alborada
los ojos abarcan ámbitos desde donde llega
la grávida textura de los puros minutos del silencio.
Hay junto a mi otros corazones que esperan
Otros ojos que se abrieron buscando
el vasto vuelo del misterio.
Cada mano pálida es un ave que anhela
asir lo inasible de un sueno que no termina
y se alarga con sus filamentos impalpables
por entre labios y pupilas en inefable imploración.
Alta es la ventana y alto el blanco muro,
Los tules de las cortinas se abrieron solícitos
y en las lejanías titilaron las brisas mañaneras.
Frentes, mejillas, manos y pechos
aspiran ya los aromas de una nueva vida
todo atrae las alas del fúlgido vuelo del misterio.
por los blancos lechos planea la blanca mano
de la ternura llegada del seno de larga noche,
es un alba que avanza con sigiloso aliento
extendiéndose como una caricia emoliente,
decantándose como un bálsamo,
anulando estertores, apaciguando pulsos,
pócima de luz, agua lustral que ilumina,
que afina gargantas, descongestiona ansiedades.
Alta ventana que al acoger las sombras
venidas del purísimo vuelo del misterio
trae iluminadas promesas del camino
aires de altas montanas, alientos de mares promisores,
vastedad de campos revientes de espigas.
Alta es la ventana que me ampara
para el puro trayecto que me llama
desde el vasto vuelo del misterio.
Cada hora es una misiva promisora,
cada minuto un nomo que baila una sonrisa,
cada segundo es un pétalo que gira,
cada filo de luz una libélula,
cada rumor del aire una íngrima flor,
La alta ventana se ha abierto y ahora
los cristales multiplican la mañana
Y al entrar la epifanía de los pájaros
Un sol con cara de niño se asoma entre los árboles.
en el corazón comienza a abrirse,
es el esplendor de una esperanza
que volara doquier entregando, multiplicando polen,
fecundando acuciosa la flor de cada anhelo,
y al soplar en tanto el frescor del vuelo del misterio
nos iremos como esporas
entre los dedos del viento
y el tiempo inefable.
Source: EIDÓLONS, ExLibris/1988.
DAWN IN THE HOSPITAL
( … and as I rest alone in bed in a large room as I lay sick…Pezoa Véliz)
High is the window where the heart peers through
it yearns to see the wings of a new day
the eyes reach distances from where
serious textures of the pure minutes of silence
By me other hearts are waiting
Other eyes open up to search
the vast flight of mystery.
Each pale hand is a bird longing to reach
the unreachable unending sleep
and extending itself with its untouchable filaments
through lips and pupils in unending
High is the window and high the white wall,
Embracing lace draperies opening up
and in the distance twinkling soft morning winds.
Foreheads, cheeks, hands and chests
breathing the fragrance of a new life
everything attracts the wings of the glowing flight of mystery.
along the white beds the white
moves from the tenderness coming from the bosom of a long night,
it is dawn that moves with secretive
extending like an emollient
portion of light, shimmering illuminating water,
that soothes throats, decongests anxieties.
High is the window that upon welcoming
shadows emerging from the purest flight of mystery
welcoming illuminated promises from the road,
air from high mountains, breadth of promising seas,
and the vastness of ebullient fields of wheat
High is the window that protects me
from the clear road that calls
from the vast flight of
Each hour is a promising message,
each minute a gnome dancing a smile,
each second is a petal flowing,
each ray of light a dragonfly,
each tremor of air a flower,
The high window is now open and
the many crystals multiply the morning
And upon entering the epiphany of birds
A sun with the face of a child peers through the trees.
a hermetic cocoon
begins to open in the heart,
it is the splendor of
that will fly everywhere delivering,
nurturing eagerly the flower of each
and blowing the freshness of the flight of mystery
we will go away like spores
through the fingers of the
wind and the ineffable time
Source: EIDÓLONS, ExLibris/1988
Liliana Hermosilla Rosenthal is the niece of Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez. She is the owner of Spanish Language Services, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA and a member of the American Translators Association (ATA). She has translated publications for the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. She and her husband are the owners of a large collection of the art of Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez and his wife Marina Pinto.