Tourists and fishermen, architects and decorators, hotels and TV channels. All are regular customers of Mauricio Cortés (50) and his various works, inspired by the national coast and the marine fauna with which he lives in Cachagua: penguins, fish, machas. Paintings of fishing boats and sculptures of women of the sea. All of them images captured by the visual artist, once a student at the California College of The Arts.
During his career he focused his work on reflecting not only the nature with which the communities of Zapallar and Cachagua coexist, but also the interaction that is generated between humans and animals through coastal life.
Why did you want to give that stamp to your art?
A long time ago I left as an artist with a boat, a big one. It was 11 meters long by five meters wide and was my first store. Deep down was my psychic space where my art world was, where I traveled through this dream world.
This boat was full of art and stuff. Gradually these crew members entered this journey of mine: the machas, the penguins, the whales, the seals. Almost like it’s a story. And it all started with dreams – I was like, ‘I want to make a shop’, and I dreamed of this boat, writing my account.
In the end it’s like a ripple course of one’s vision of art. And all these characters that have gradually gone up to become icons within what is the reflection of this area. Whales pass in December, penguins have transformed them into giant creatures up to five meters on the beach. And in the end people end up respecting them: before they were overlooked and now we understand the relationship that the penguin has with themselves.
Not only do they look at it from the outside, but they question the clan organization that penguins have, and they say ‘we want to be a clan too.’ Human beings are learning a lot from these animals because they are fully connected to nature and its cycles, while the human being has moved away from these cycles.
You made art your way of sustaining yourself. You managed to build this identity and have people look at it in their homes, in galleries, in bazaars. But it is also the new generations who are most captivated by these images. The sad thing is that these generations are going to be less likely to contemplate this, and the way they learn from them is going to end up being either in museums or in art…
One of the slogans I had was being able to ‘hug a sculpture or reflect you in a painting’. If you can see something and reflect your life in the background and make a recognition of something – like the same macha – you see the shape it has, its softness…
A while ago I wanted to do an exhibition called ‘Forest of Machas’. It was an ode to the giant machas in Cachagua, machas that children could use as slips, as shade and others to gather water, that were in the sand. All like concrete, because the shell of the macha is calcium carbonate. It was the same concept, along with a planting of machas on the beach of Cachagua. I wanted to reforest.
But what happens is that you’re an artist so it’s good to create, but these were big words. As a project it was super nice.
Cachagua is a more rural and country place, nearby there is even a wetland that has been managed to take care of. But it’s meters from Puchuncaví, and we know what’s going on there. Do you think the environment is being maintained?
As for the pollution we are super exposed, I think a cloud is constantly coming here, from Quinteros or Ventanas. It’s really toxic: I’ve been surfing a couple of times there by the pier and people sweep a powder that’s between black and phosphorous green from the tubes. A catastrophe. We are next door and although you don’t see that much, the pollution is: the Humbolt current comes from the south and throws everything over here.
How can I as an artist contribute a grain of sand? In a way I have let myself be heard: I do free workshops for children all year round and they always arrive between seventy and one hundred children.
The next thing I want to do is called «A City of Sand», which is on the beach. It goes with everything: architects, layout, with drones. It becomes a sandy city where children can walk in mazes. But I want it to be something that can be put together and then disarmed, like an illusion in the background. There will be a design, a story very related to nature – that between the wind and the sea to this city.
Is it very difficult to make an underwater museum?
I installed a giant woman a long time ago. His name was Celeste, but they named him Estela. He is now outside my shop but was before he was outside the Chiringuito for about two years, also in the descent of Los Coirones -both beach restaurants. The fishermen want to sink it in Zapallar, let’s say about three years for people to go see, then take it out and create the myth of this woman who «came out of the sea after so long.»
What’s your message as an artist today?
I’ve always gone down the most natural lines: reuse things, recycling. To be able to see sometimes two sticks thrown away and create something amazing with that. People learn a lot from that.
I tend to think that art is a powerful means of expression, and I could use it to be able to express many powerful things within what one thinks of what happens in the country, for example. But in a way it limits you a lot, so I don’t think I get in there much.
Things have to be said very innocently because I think that within art is something that makes everything more viable and healthy, unlike framing it into something more momentary I think.
I had my shop in Zapallar for twelve years. even though I change stores every six: there we were too much. Why do we last so long? We were gift-gifts. There came a time when it was Zapallar’s postcard. There was nothing better than the foreigner taking a picture there, it was the ultimate. I could have been 20 years older, and it probably would have been possible to be better, but just a little bit. We had touched a roof.
When I had to leave Zapallar and come to Cachagua gave me the opportunity to start from scratch, on a completely unknown base. But it opens up my chances of seeing a completely broad spectrum, how far I can go with my art. And I don’t have an answer, I don’t see that end. And I find it mind-blowing.