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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 43, Page One of One


José María Párraga: Starting in Murcia
Etsuko Ichikawa: Innovations in Molten Glass

José María Párraga: Starting in Murcia

Untitled, Rooster
by José María Párraga

Pyrography and color on wood panel

Image courtesy of J. Guardiola

"...Pyroengraver, Genius Egg Cleaner In Holland...."

Like his art, the life of Spanish artist José María Párraga, had many facets. Born in 1937 in the Mediterranean port city of Cartagena in the southeastern province of Murcia in Spain, he lived a life marked by various peculiar aspects of circumstance and personality. Here is how his friend Jacinto Nicolás portrayed him:

"Genius, painter, collector of impossible materials, pyroengraver, genius egg cleaner in Holland, teacher, sculptor, poster artist, stage set designer, radio talk show guest, occasional and voluntary patient in mental hospitals, a man of genius above all."
He was born in the postwar period after the devastating Spanish Civil War of 1936, the firstborn of parents who were both teachers of meager means.

Eventually, he came to realize that he wanted to pursue art, but in the face of family opposition based on the obvious objections of the insecurity of an artist's life in those difficult economic times, he continued his studies with the intent to fulfill his parents' wishes to follow in their footsteps.

He froze when faced with the oral exam that would have assured him a teaching job in the public school system. Later he confessed that it was the idea of being a teacher for the rest of his life that was the reason.

Compliance and conformity were not characteristics that Párraga understood. Even when he was studying art, it is said that, although he learned the discipline of working at his art every day, he could not bring himself to conform to artistic canons being taught.

When he was later fired (for lack of compliance with the curriculum) from a job teaching in a private school—a job given him as a favor to his father—he left for Holland. There he cleaned eggs for a living and after a while returned to Spain "singing impossible Dutch songs" according to one account.

Once Párraga managed his first art exposition, it is said that he "burst with overwhelming energy into incessant activity" eagerly turning out art works and appearing everywhere at every possible event. He was well known as a charismatic person with an intense personality and a jovial storyteller of humorous anecdotes.

He overcame any hard times exchanging drawings for loaves of bread, glasses of wine, and always continued working even when there was an absolute lack of means by making art works out of discarded, found materials. Even during those difficult periods, his work never ceased to infuse optimism.

Untitled, Two People with Dove
by José María Párraga

Pyrography and color on wood panel

Image courtesy of J. Guardiola

Despite His Popularity Or Because Of It....

It was thanks to Jesús Guardiola Gómez that the works of Párraga were introduced to the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art a year ago. Guardiola introduced himself as "someone who is a dedicated newcomer to pyrography, a very devoted devoté" of the art form and the works of his predecessor.

An explanation was offered by J. Guardiola G., as to why an artist of Párraga's marked talent never became well known beyond the borders of his native province of Murcia. Besides being known as a very personable man with a big heart, according to Guardiola, Párraga was also a man of personal quirks, who was in many ways a misfit. In addition, he lacked an agent that might have made a difference in his artistic endeavors. But he spoke of other, paradoxical factors, as well:

"When his biographer speaks of times when Párraga had to exchange art works for food, he wasn't exaggerating even a tiny bit, but besides that, Párraga didn't need to be spurred on by hunger in order to give away a sketch, a drawing, or even a substantial art work. All of Murcia is peppered with his creations: Párraga is omnipresent in the capital [of the province] and outside of it; his paintings hang on the walls of small businesses; his works adorn the walls of public and private buildings, or they're scattered, hidden from the sight of most everyone in obscure offices of the regional administration where they await the promised building of a museum of contemporary art that has long been in the planning stages.

It was in this way that he was able to disseminate his work to outlandish limits, but at the cost of devaluing it: If anyone can own "a Párraga," if his paintings can be admired in bakeries and beer joints adorning a partition next to calendars and reproductions of more or less artistic prints...; if they are dressing up the facade of a police station or the entrance to a school, yet are not displayed in the catalogue of a museum, you can just imagine with what predisposition and shortsightedness a Párraga is regarded by the greater public as well as institutions and the world of culture in general with few noteworthy exceptions. And maybe it should be like that, if he wanted it that way; maybe the place for art should not be only the physical enclosure of a museum. But I fear I am digressing into a place something like quicksand...."

Untitled, Mother and Baby
by José María Párraga

Pyrography on wood panel

Image courtesy of J. Guardiola

Fear of Color

It wasn't until the age of seventeen during a long home stay convalescing from paratyphoid fever that, to amuse himself during those tedious hours, José María (Pepe) Párraga began to draw. From that point forward in the life of Párraga, it was always about the drawing. Even as his career developed and he also did paintings, it was still always about the drawing and not the painting. In fact, most of his paintings look like faux pyrography works with color. And following is what the artist himself said about his relationship to his painting and his drawing:

"Painting is hard work for me. In contrast, drawing is not; it is absolutely no work at all. I can do it sleeping, by day, by night, at any hour."

"I don't use color out of fear. Drawing relaxes me, unburdens me; apart from everything else it gives me, it serves as therapy. Color is just the opposite. It gets to me, it absorbs me, it makes me nervous, I don't control it and it unhinges me. When I work with color I let it take over so much that I end up thrown off balance, with depression. Working with color scares me."

Untitled, Bullfighter and Bull
by José María Párraga

Pyrography on wood panel

Image courtesy of J. Guardiola

The Artist's Thoughts on Pyrographic Drawing

Not much has been found written about Párraga's pyrography, perhaps because art historians do not talk about pyrography. But his pyrography is an obvious extension of his drawing. It was a natural outgrowth of it. And a flagrant expression of the essence of his art. It is a pity that the artist himself did not offer the art historians of the world as well as the rest of us a greater insight into his pyrographic motivations, but he did not. Following are two short, random quotes from the artist about his pyrography:

"The line that is realized with fire is always definitive."

"The technique of pyroengraving is direct, handicraft in the best sense of the word, where line is humanized with the hardness of the half measures to achieve that engraving in the wood."
Perhaps we can glean some answer about Párraga's use of the technique by exploring how he brings to his works his interpretation of "that figurative universe that attracts him so much." Following is one answer offered:
"...We have to start with the concept of deformation. For Párraga, creation cannot exist without deformation, because among other motives, there is no creation without subjectivity. The tendency to deform the reality that is underlying in each and every one of his works is the consequence of the expression of his inescapable desire for freedom. It is evident that, for Párraga, freedom, more than one of the fundamental concepts, is an authentic obsession."

Untitled, Couple on Horseback
by José María Párraga

Pyrography and color on wood panel

Image courtesy of J. Guardiola

Closing Notes

José María Párraga died in 1997. His artistic career of about four decades left a lasting legacy for his province of Murcia as well as a prodigious body of work. That legacy brought him the enduring affection of Murcia's people, his people. There is a grade school named after him, and now a contemporary art center named in his honor. It seems only a question of time until his art will be recognized and sought after beyond Murcia's borders.

As for his legacy to pyrographic art in Murcia and Spain, J. Guardiola had some thoughts on this aspect, as well:

"With respect to a following of his pyroengravings in Murcia, my answer, in line with my previous comments, cannot be anything but pessimistic. There is in this land, it seems to me, a considerable number of painters, a great following for painting and drawing. But also on this point, Párraga constitutes a solitary island, a rare bird in an art that emanated from him but has not had any continuity, at least as far as I know.

This is because in a province like ours, not to mention Spain as a whole, in spite of having had or having great pyrographers, it seems there still exists an inferiority complex, an unwarranted timidity opposite other forms of art that are more recognized, and which is reinforced with the contempt or condescension that artists working in those other art forms manifest towards pyrographers."
At the risk of being accused of preaching to the choir, as we say, I will end with another quote from J. Guardiola Gómez: "We know that this is an unwarranted prejudice, the fruit of ignorance, and that this line of demarcation that is artificially drawn between art and craft is nothing more than the result of an historic misunderstanding that we ought to begin to rethink."

References and Related Items of Interest

José María Párraga: Vida, Obra, Pensamientos Curiosos is a comprehensive internet biography of the revered artist of Murcia. Text is in Spanish. This biography and exhibit of his works are on the webpage of a primary school named for the artist: Colegio José Ma. Párraga. This article was the main source of the quotations in this article that were not otherwise attributed.

Parraga Centre is a multidisciplinary contemporary art center named after the great artist. Text is in both Spanish and English.

Etapas is an outline of the various stages in the art career of José María Párraga. Text is in Spanish.

Works by Jesús Guardiola Gómez, who is José María Párraga's successor and the artist who introduced him to the E-Museum and offered his valuable insights for this article.

Here is the web site of another Spaniard in Murcia—Francisco Palomares. According to Jesús Guardiola, Palomares said in an interview that he thought he was the only pyrographer there. As Guardiola said, Palomares' statement probably wasn't far from the truth. Text is in Spanish.

Look for additional works by José María Párraga in his salon exhibit in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

Etsuko Ichikawa: Innovations in Molten Glass

Untitled, Work in Progress
by Etsuko Ichikawa

Pyrography on paper

Image courtesy of Nora Atkinson, Bellevue Arts Museum

October Lecture and Exhibition in Bellevue, Washington

I learned about Tokyo-born, abstract artist Etsuko Ichikawa of Washington State thanks to Carol Venafra at a networking meeting I attended in Falls Church, Virginia. On the Pacific side of the country, Etsuko is opening a new exhibition in Bellevue, Washington called Traces of the Molten State after just a few months ago closing another show on the Atlantic side in Washington, D.C. She is already known in The Netherlands and Japan, as well.

On October 3rd, 2008, the eve of her new show at the Bellevue Arts Museum, she is offering a lecture and preview viewing on her highly innovative and exquisite technique of abstract pyrographic works on handmade paper done using molten glass. If you are near Bellevue, Washington, don't miss this exciting event. If you would like to attend her lecture from 6:30–7:30 pm on October 3rd, here is the information:

"Learn more about Etsuko Ichikawa's unique glass pyrograph technique that enables her to draw with molten glass. Lecture attendees will have a special opportunity to preview her new solo exhibition Traces of the Molten State before it opens to the public on October 4. RSVP through Guest Services at 425.519.0770 or admissions@bellevuearts.org."
Etsuko Ichikawa's show will run through March 8th, 2009.

Look for more information on Etsuko Ichikawa in the "Unusual Tools and Techniques" section of the Special Hall of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

The Author

Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez learned her pyrography techniques in Guatemala in 1975–1977 under Carmela Flores. Her sister, Artist Sharon H. Garvey, later joined her there to collaborate on a pyrography project designed to promote this art form in the United States by means of a didactic book and a pyrography tool made by Navarro of Mexico.

Thanks to the internet, this is the twelfth year of articles on pyrography for the Woodcarver Online Magazine (WOM), started January 1997, and the eleventh year of the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art, which opened its virtual doors January 1998. In March of that year, the International Association of Pyrographic Artists (IAPA) was formed and members began meeting on line. Linked from the E-Museum's Café Flambé, which hosts the IAPA meetings, is the Yahoo Groups uniting_pyrographers mailing list, member list, and chat forum set up for IAPA members by IAPA Cofounder Ken "Mixo" Sydenham of Warragul, Victoria, Australia.

© 2008, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.