You asked me for biographical information. You are interested in where
and when I was born? I believe that one is born many times and that age is a fact without importance, as is the place of one's birth.
In my case, I have been born many times, and I have had many successive homelands-or none at all, such as occurs to nomads.
I am a nomad; I want to wander without ever [---]. I always look ahead and feel that I still have many lives to live and many landscapes to embrace.
To travel and to experience. Not as a tourist but as a repeated inhabitant. I never travel with my memories. I know how to make myself into a blank page in which the journey inscribes its new story/history...
I leave behind my previous self like a dress or [---] of mine. I abandon. For this reason I travel alone; for most people bring their old lives with them, on their backs or packed in their valises. To travel is to renew oneself. To fill new molds, forgetting about yesterday and breaking with a chain of habits that ages one. To travel and to change one's life is to gain renewed youths. I know how to make myself the echo and mirror of each new landscape.
To paint for painting's sake, to mix colors and pastes, never interested me. For me painting is like writing in a diary. It is to give back an excess of landscape from inside of me, the result of an explosion of a part of my being.
I am a nomad by birth and by heritage. When I cannot change location or country, I change houses, or the color of my hair. Even in my early childhood writings, I would write below my name: traveler.
Now, if you categorically insist in the classic curricula [sic] vitae, I can confide to you that I was born in Austria-just as I could have been born in China without having any Chinese in me. My mother was of English blood but with a generally North American upbringing, and my father always dreamed of the South American pampas. I left Austria very early and traveled disguised as a boy (and often on foot), getting to know the European landscape on the side of Germany and Switzerland. During that time, the theater and variété attracted me more than painting did. Nonetheless, I had always drawn caricatures and fashion sketches since childhood. I was so terribly happy that people would tell me that they had never seen me serious. They did not know that I had many years of enormous seriousness ahead of me.
In Munich, I enrolled in the school of Heimann. In Geneva, I took classes in plastic anatomy and dedicated myself to painting women, either nude or half-dressed in something frivolous, and still lifes. There they painted under the sign of Cézanne. I also dedicated myself to artistic and luxury advertising, working with such enthusiasm and success that I signed with my own publishing house. Oruges stimulated me to come to Paris.
[So from Geneva] I went to Paris. This was my second birth. I discovered architecture, historical foundations, the beauty of the Seine, and the consuming life of the bohemians and students. I made a living from advertising, working with major firms such as Oruges, Tolme, L' Agencie [sic] [---], etc., supported and inspired by the paintings of Picasso, Braque, Dufy; and getting to know the art and artists of the Paris milieu. I lived on the Ile St-Louis and swore that I would finish my life there. Paris makes one forget the world, for the world is in her.
Nonetheless, other lands began to call me. I left everything and went to Spain. I lived for one year on the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza in fishermen's houses amid olive trees and beautiful views. There the landscape revealed itself to me for the first time as something paintable. The trees there were scarce, and I discovered the beauty of brown and ochre tones-the profundity of the sky, the architecture and rhythm of a landscape. And more: the human figure of the ibizeño, the beautiful women exotically dressed, gave me the shape, color and light atop the sober background of dazzling, African clay.
But looking at things did not feed me, and I there I learned the struggle to make a living. I improvised new professions for myself, such as opening a pensión for artists. I painted and cooked for several months, until I had enough to continue traveling to the continent.
I traveled all or almost all of Spain, and I felt reborn a third time. The ampleness of the landscape, its austerity, found a deep resonance in me. I felt an exaltation until then unknown, an inebriation of space and of light-I felt a strange liberty in those arid pathways of Castile. In Madrid, I lived for 15 months in the neighborhood of the Puerta del Sol before I discovered the modern city of grand avenues. Toledo fascinated me. The Escorial frightened me. The Guadarrama froze me. I went almost every day to the Prado, and it was the first museum that didn't make me dizzy. I spent many hours with the great paintings of Goya and Velazquez; and before two admirable Patinirs*, I discovered how much I would like to paint.
Those "landscapes of the world," Veltlandschaften [sic], with their deep, diaphanous skies gave me the answer to my uneasy sensation before certain [other] landscapes. The brevity and plainness of the creation enchanted me. It was not painting with the touch of the hand but rather with the touch of the soul. These Veltlandschaften [sic] taught me how to enclose a whole world [---] inside a small canvas. I could have stolen those two paintings and [still] never satiated myself before them. I had done two years of travel in Spain when, at the end of '33, the first symptoms of the civil war began. The great strikes began; they frequently threw bombs and volleyed shots [---]. I left when a bomb exploded in a church next to my house, and I embarked for Argentina.
My mental preparation for the entry into American lands was such that in no time I [was] taking ship and sailing to Ecuador. It was like a familiar act, and I soon proved to myself that I had long since left the European mold.
In the fascinating austerity of the mesa of Castile I felt a close relationship to my own existence and personal feeling, and I felt a profound accord between my interior world and what came to me from the outside.
- Unaddressed and undated draft of a letter written by Gertrudis Chale.
- * Joachim Patinir, or Patinier, (1480-1524) was a Flemish painter known for his landscapes.
- [---] : Missunderstood words.
- Translation from Spanish to English by Julianne Gilland