Roy Lawaetz
by Roy Lawaetz

Marianne de Tolentino Interview
with Roy Lawaetz

Q.

 

1.

 

Can you tell us your process of evolution towards the actual period "The Modular Triangular System" ?

A.

 

1.

 

I painted on rectangles for more than 15 years. But already as early as 1973 I believe I did one large triangle. It was one of the first paintings I ever sold. But a triangle was an exception for me then. Now it's the rule. In 1977 I did a series while studying with the Danish Professor and artist Richard Mortensen. His reaction was positive even though the triangles were made of masonite and nailed onto rectangular canvas. In fact he said I could continue to do these for the rest of my life. But I might also get bored , he said. He was absolutely right. After a while triangle motifs super imposed on rectangle canvases didn't interest me. So I started to find ways to paint directly on triangles and that was really what I wanted to do. The problem was I had no reference points. All the artists I had admired before had obviously painted on rectangles including my main teacher Victor Candell.

         

Q.

 

2.

 

Did any special circumstance or incident occur to determine this triangular investigation ?

A.

 

2.

 

Well, in 1990 I lost my house in a tragic house fire while I had it leased to a construction company. There were many of my rectangle paintings stored there. Only ashes were left after so many years of work on these rectangles. Then I have to start build a large body of work again. On the ashes literally. I started to expand the idea of the triangle once again. But I only had two or three basic configurations then. If I put two triangles together I could get a diamond shape for instance. But I didn't really see the full potential at that time. It has been a very slow process arriving at "The Modular Triangular System". Today when I find a new shape I have a hard time accepting the fact that I haven't thought if it before. But I know it's because I've been conditioned like all of us since childhood to utilize the rectangle. Now with "The Modular Triangular System" in place I have an extended repertoire. And I am convinced there are more shapes to be discovered.

         

Q.

 

3.

 

Some artists and people in general have a cabalistic number, bringing luck or misfortune. Does 3 mean something like that to you ?

A.

 

3.

 

No.

         

Q.

 

4.

 

Three is anyway very important for Caribbean people, first because of the triple legacy: Amerindian, European, African. Those cultural heritages are very present in your work. Explain.

A.

 

4.

 

Well, that's true. The Caribbean's legacy is quite unique. This is actually what drew me to exploring the triangle's possibilities more and more. In this context I see the triangle as best expressing, for me, at least, the three legacies. In my essay I address the topic at length. You see when I first started to paint in the early seventies I was an abstract artist. And of course the formats were also rectangles. The fact that the Caribbean has non-western legacies as well made the investigation of the triangle more interesting for me.

         

Q.

 

5.

 

The triangle interests you because of the geometric shape and its possibilities in aesthetics ??

A.

 

5.

 

Exactly. More and more I find ways to utilize the triangle's geometric shape to create other shapes by combining them. In the first years I couldn't visualize more than three or four. Now I think the combinations are quite endless if one allows the triangles to mutate in organic-like configurations.

         

Q.

 

6.

 

Has the triangle a religious meaning in your works ?

A.

 

6.

 

Well, I have always considered it to be a more spiritual shape than the rectangle if that's what you mean. The triangle shape at its base appears to strive towards the heavens in a symbolic context. Then there's the Divine Trinity which is also encapsulated symbolically in the shape of the triangle. And of course the Zemi stones of the Taino Indians which had meaning for those people.

         

Q.

 

7.

 

In the "English" Caribbean, the Amerindians do not have such importance as the black ancestors. But in your painting the fragment references to the Taino seem to make claims for the disappeared Indians´ memory ?

A.

 

7.

 

Well, I think it's a cultural legacy that could be emphasized even more although you have in the Dominican Republic artists like Giudelli, Silvano Lora, Antonio Guadeloupe, Guido Perez and others who have done an excellent job of preserving the memory of the indigenous contribution to the Caribbean and there are others too in Guadeloupe. And the fine painter Victor Anicet from Martinique. I know there are others in Puerto Rico and other places in the Caribbean who in their own way incorporate the indigenous legacy in their work. But the interesting thing is that both the Taino and black legacies can combine quite well to supply a strong cultural base to give Caribbean artists something unique.

         

Q.

 

8.

 

What do you think about the circle, a shape with a tradition of supreme harmony, preferred for the "Mandala" ? Do you use it in your works ?

A.

 

8.

 

No, I have only done one circular painting. Sure the circular shape is beautiful, harmonious but it is not where I am at right now. Frankly, I am more interested in depicting a sensation of fragmentation rather than harmony necessarily. My earlier art training taught me to see the harmonious ideal in painting. Today I can refer to how fragmented life is by connecting these triangles together in "The Modular Triangular System".

         

Q.

 

9.

 

The Tainos identified the triangular shape with "Zemies" religious images and diversities, representations. Has the triangle a sacred connotation in Your painting ?

A.

 

9.

 

I like to think so. I relate them to the sacred burial grounds of the Caribbean's ancestors. The buried fragments, the triangular stones that I searched for as a young boy growing up on the plantation. Looking for Indian relics was the supreme moment for me.

         

Q.

 

10.

 

Did you begin to compose your painting with a single triangle ?

A.

 

10.

 

Yes, but the idea of the triangle by itself was not enough to sustain my interest. It was rather the combination of triangles that led to the System.

         

Q.

 

11.

 

How did you join several triangles in a "Modular Triangular System" ?

A.

 

11.

 

At first when I started joining them together I did it with nails. But I soon found out I could use machine screws and wing nuts to attach the individual triangles together. This meant the paintings could be attached or detached quickly. But of course I did not think of it as a system in the beginning. It was just an approach. But as more and more shapes took form I could see there was a definite system to be developed.

         

Q.

 

12.

 

Did this system preserve the concept or the symbol of the triangle ?

A.

 

12.

 

Well, the triangle was given a chance to expand its aesthetic potential. So in this sense it not only preserved its concept and symbol but actually transcended its origins at the same time. What started out as triangles turned out to be the building blocks for something else - the different shapes. And these shapes were achieved by use of triangles.

         

Q.

 

13.

 

We know that you don't agree about the hegemony of the rectangle, which means for you an European imposition, but don't you think that in modern and contemporary art, it has lost this characteristic ?

A.

 

13.

 

Well, to begin with in my essay I give tribute to the rectangle as the great common denominator in painting on the Support. But having said that I also state the rectangle has overshadowed the triangle so that its potential has never been truly explored. It is in this context I refer to the European imposition. The Caribbean had a very unique sense of shape in the Zemi form with Columbus' arrival. But historically the triangular aesthetic as represented by the Taino Zemi stones never had a chance to be developed in a modern context. In terms of relational dynamics I like to think that this is the significance of the MTS point of view and what I'm doing now. This is something that originated in the Caribbean and it can be developed. But as to the hegemony of the rectangle I think it still exists. The rectangle's preponderant influence is still there. Installations are a different art form for me they don't offer a support alternative but rather an alternative to art production in general. Art stores still sell great quantities of rectangles. So the hegemony still exists on a commercial basis. Let's face it rectangles are here to stay.

         

Q.

 

14.

 

Could the triangle be an inheritance of Christianity and the Holy Trinity ?

A.

 

14.

 

Yes, it is and this I cover in my essay. But it is of course not only that but other things as well. The Zemi stone has always been the main point of departure for me but there are parallel aspects with Christianity worthwhile exploring. The ironic comparisons always interest me.

         

Q.

 

15.

 

For the Tainos, the triangular shape "Trigonlito" had a symbolism of fertility - what about your women paintings in the 1996 International Saõ Paulo Bienal ?

A.

 

15.

 

Well, the paintings I presented at the 1996 International São Paulo Bienal were a new development in "The Modular Triangular System". It was now evident that inactive elements could be effectively integrated into artworks, which were constructed out of triangles. I used submersible pumps, sensors, taped music to convey this. Also native Caribbean elements such as Conch Shells and a Coconut to present a fertile image of the Caribbean and women. I had read somewhere in my research on the Tainos that they believed certain Zemi stones would provide enough water and ensure adequate crops. Also that women experienced easier childbirth if they trusted in the powers of the Zemi. All this gave me a chance to utilize modern technology to convey the culture of the lost Taino. In my work I don't see the aspects of ancient legacies in creative conflict with modern technology.

Recently, for instance, I combined a Laptop with one of my women paintings. The Zemi symbolism works on various levels, even with a Laptop. Fertility, communication, womanhood, birth etc. In São Paulo I was very pleased to experience how sensitive and responsive the Brazilian people were to this idea - combining ancient legacy with technology. They were a great audience unlike anything I've experienced before. I can't imagine any better audience. The women liked it especially.

This book however is really to illustrate the different shape possibilities of "The Modular Triangular System" rather the ancient legacy/modern technology combination.

         

Q.

 

16.

 

Do you think… if an artist can anticipate about his creation - that you will go on investigation using "The Modular Triangular System" ?

A.

 

16.

 

I think "The Modular Triangular System" offers a solid foundation for me. One that I can continue to build on in years to come. You see the combination of triangles in different sequences and configurations can keep me busy in the studio. It's an exciting experience for me to stumble onto a new shape and so I continue to look for new ones.

         

Q.

 

17.

 

Do you know of other artists from the Caribbean or elsewhere who use this geometric element in their works ?

A.

 

17.

 

The closest thing I have seen elsewhere would be shaped canvases which have been around for some time. But these are usually single canvases in isolation and not attached together to create new shapes. Years ago I saw a triangle painting by an American abstract artist in a Museum. But it didn't impress me. The canvas was stapled onto the sides and it looked untidy. Triangle paintings in isolation don't really make up a system.

         

Q.

 

18.

 

How can you define your "System" ? it is a rather complex one !!

A.

 

18.

 

The best way I guess is to write an essay on the subject which I have done. Actually I thought you would do it but you left it up to me. You know ever since we met in 1993 you have been a great promoter of my work and it is a bit ironic now I have to tell you what I'm doing. You were always very astute at figuring out what I have done on canvas. In fact it was you who first suggested I do a book several years ago. But back to the "System". I now have all the different shapes classified on the computer. Whenever I need to refer to a shape. I have it on file. Each different shape has its own name and so on. But the system itself really has to do with ideas. Ideas that deal with what the Support can actually be. Once one accepts an extremist position such as I have then the rectangular premise, as I call it, no longer exists as an obstacle. In fact what happens is that the subconscious mind starts working like an underground agent to create even more non-traditional type supports for painting on canvas. In this sense my work is really about ideas - a new system of ideas for the Support. I think the third Millennium will be more prepared to embrace new support forms because the world is definitely changing as we know it.

         

Q.

 

19.

 

Have you created or would you pretend to have created a school of "The Modular Triangular System" ?

A.

 

19.

 

One of the major reasons for this book is to illustrate the possibilities of "The Modular Triangular System". I hope that perhaps this might have some impact. But as far as a school goes right now I am the only one who is practicing it that I know of. Together with Marianne Drost who understands the philosophy behind the system I think it is a bit premature to refer to what I have accomplished as a school though. For that to happen you have to have a few followers that create a new and convincing vision. But I will say this much the possibilities for meaningful research with triangles is open to anyone. The ground work is already accomplished. Now it's just a matter of where we go from here. We hope to set up our own MTS Home Page where we can communicate with those who are interested in experimental forums.

         

Q.

 

20.

 

I think that Marianne Drost collaborates with you about this process and its development. What is her role and responsibility in your actual creation ? I think that it is quite a "duo" like Jeanne-Claude and Christo.

A.

 

20.

 

I first met Marianne Drost in 1993 as a collector of Richard Mortensen and Per Kirkeby. She purchased one square painting from me. We laugh about that now. She, too, has come to learn and see for herself how triangles can work together. In the beginning her role was rather limited to organizing exhibits for me but she has developed into more than just an organizer. She worked for IBM for 25 years and I guess you can say she has been exceptional in organizing my work. But now she has also dared to branch into the creative end, giving feedback, dialogue, constructive criticism, encouragement and most of all she has a quality of persistence that is exceptional. She understands that "The Modular Triangular System" is an expansive approach for the Support. Not really a specific way to paint.

         

Q.

 

21.

 

At last… a general question. What do you think about the actual Caribbean visual arts and their perspectives for the future in and out of the region ?

A.

 

21.

 

For a small population the Caribbean has a pool of talent. But there are some islands that do more than others for their visual artists. The Dominican Republic is the artists mecca of the Caribbean. That's why I came here from The Virgin Islands and it was a good decision. You see you have a visual arts infra-structure that is lacking in most of the other islands. It shows too. You have a tremendous amount of artists who exhibit on the international scene on a regular basis. Sacha Tébo, originally from Haiti, moved here years ago. It's easy to understand why he did so.

But then there are those artists who have no visual arts infra-structure on their respective island, who struggle in solitary isolation in spite of the many difficulties. As far as the future of art for the Caribbean we just need more international support, more places to exhibit, more exposure. Artists from Caribbean islands are even more isolated than artists who reside on continents. Then there's the autonomy issue. This has to be addressed. Caribbean islands should have independent autonomy to direct their own art councils. I hope that some day this will happen all over the Caribbean. When certain islands are grouped together for political convenience this does a great disservice to the equitable development of Caribbean Art. It gives the power to some islands but not to others. Perhaps your Lomé directorship should take up this issue on a research and discussion basis and convey the message that art is best served when each individual island can be in charge of its own artists programs.

This is not the case today for some islands. In the Caribbean some islands are underprivileged, do not enjoy the same power to determine the course of action for their own native artists.

         

Biography

Marianne de Tolentino graduated from the University of Paris, where she studied Law and Modern Letters. Critic of Art and Literature, her work is distributed in newspaper articles, texts for specialized magazines, essays for catalogues and monographs. She has held numerous conferences in the Dominican Republic and abroad. She has been part of national and international juries. In recent years, Marianne de Tolentino has exercised the Curator ship in many important exhibitions, those especially devoted to events of the Caribbean, and to the coordination and selection of exhibitions, biennials and international festivals of art. She is President of the association of the Dominican Republic of Art Critics and member of the International Association of art Critics.

She has just begun her functions as Coordinator of the Cultural Center of the Caribbean "Cariforum", of the European Union´s Lomé IV with headquarters in Santo Domingo. The author has won several prizes in the Dominican republic and abroad, as well as several honors, the last one being the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Government.