Artist Chrispapita Escobar in his studio in Guatemala with his painting, “Vanitas Nebula”
With a strong passion for shirking the “vanity” of everyday life and societal constructs, artist (and dentist) Chrispapita Escobar, leads a generation of painters in the freeing traditions and ideals of Baroque\ Epoque.
These aren’t paintings, they HAVE to be photographed!
(chuckles) No, these are all acrylic on canvas.
They’re so realistic, it’s unbelievable. They’re the most realistic paintings I’ve ever seen!
Thank you. But I hope that I am known for more than being a “hyper-realistic” painter.
What would you rather be known for?
I am part of the post, neo-baroque movement.
Baroque? From my one art history class in college, I remember the term “chiaroscuro” and lots of gold.
(chuckles) Yes, there is a bit of indulgence in Baroque architecture, but paintings of the Baroque period are characterized by the idea of “vanitas,” or rather, leaving vanity aside.
But Baroque is so decadent, how does it represent a dereliction of vanity? They seem to embrace it, no?
It’s the idea of leaving earthly vanity aside, of giving up the posturing of everyday life. To let the truth come out and to celebrate that truth by capturing the moment of it in all its details—whether “good” or “bad.”
So that’s where the “chiaroscuro” comes in?
Yes, the play of extreme lights and darks. It has drama, shadows. Caravaggio was the master of this and you see it in all of his works. Everything is a sanctimonious moment of truth in his paintings.
Got it. The truth that is left after leaving vanity behind.
Exactly! That’s what the skull motif is in baroque paintings. It’s not meant to symbolize simply death, but the setting aside of vanity. Bares bones, no more transient, or deceptive flesh remains. Only what can stand the test of time?
You often pair the skulls in your painting with flowers. Is that to mark a relationship between life and death? Or the death of vanity, rather?
Yes, it’s the egalitarian beauty of nature. Underneath, we are all the same. Inside we are all the same. It’s equality under the skin contrasted with the specific beauty and diversity of living plants.
Now, one of your paintings, titled “Venus” is interesting because you named it after the goddess of beauty, yet you don’t show the woman’s face or figure. Very anti-Botticelli.
It’s more re-birth of Venus than the birth of Venus. The painting for me connects a dark, clouded part of my life with a fresh, new understanding that came after it passed. It represents how we can only appreciate the light after the ceasing of darkness. Also, everything in life starts with women, and what better way to capture the full embodiment of women’s nurturing beauty than her hands. Life is all in a woman’s hands
Many of your subjects have tattoos and your compositions have everyday objects like a Ring Pop or a rubber duck. Is that on purpose or simply to show more color play in your work?
No, this is very much on purpose. Guatemala is still quite conservative and religious, therefore as a society, we hold to a lot of “virginal” ideals about people, not even just women. Tattoos symbolize gang affiliation or uncleanliness of sorts, so my goal in painting individuals with tattoos is to break the stigma and show how this is part of Guatemala, even if not the conservative ideal.
What about your painting, “Luna”? Another woman with tattoos?
Yes, it’s part of my series, Cosmic Tropics, —such is life in the tropics—which is meant to represent different types of personalities in Guatemala. Luna is “Libertad” or freedom from the chains of Catholicism. She wants to be free, as in she’s gotten tattoos, but she’s still shy in a crouching position to show constraint. It’s the moment before she gets up to claim her freedom from the judgment of society.
Does this make your artwork particularly political then?
I don’t think so. I think heavy politics, or extreme partisan views in art, distract and detract from the work itself because it’s more focused on a message than a connection with the audience. Again, I embrace the idea of letting go of vanity and standing on a soapbox is more vanity.
Do you have any tattoos?
Yes, actually in preparation for painting “Venus” I went to the same tattoo artist the model went to. I wanted to feel the pain, remember every stroke of the needle, smell the ink so that I could connect with the subject’s experience.
That is one of the most hard-core dedications to true art I have heard of—what other real-life experience do you rely on to paint?
I am a dentist and my ten years of studying anatomy and teeth have definitely aided and influenced my artwork. I make dental prosthetics and capturing the imperfections of teeth, the way the light catches the different layers of enamel—it’s very similar to mother of pearl—is paramount to how realistic and natural a tooth will look.
What similarities are there to handling light with teeth as with a canvas?
People have expectations of these perfect, pearly whites. And it may look great in a dentist’s office with the harsh, industrial light, but terrible outside. It’s always best to use natural light for all subjects. Natural light makes all colors possible.
So what light do you use in your studio?
All lights are standard D65. The closest to outdoor, natural light.
What advice do you have for younger artists who are also interested in the post, neo-baroque art style?
Most art is meant to criticize the world. Find art, true art, that celebrates the beauty of life. Let go of the vanity that holds you to temporary ideals.