Artist Profile: First Impressions of an Ecuadorian Whirlwind
Frames Can’t Contain the Work of Carlo Polidoro Lopez
Concordia University’s student-run VAV Gallery felt like most small school galleries. It had a glossy grey floor.
The walls were white and pristine, punctuated by colourful landscape canvases and mono-chromatic photographic prints.
Part of the gallery, tucked around the corner of the main wall, has often been reserved for multimedia works. But for that August 2017 exhibition, First Impressions, turning the corner meant entering what looked like a war zone.
The grey floor was smudged with pastel. Drawings were taped to the ground. It made the space hard to navigate. The walls were covered in canvases and paper and cardboard and tape and more pastel. It was gritty. The supplies looked like they came from the trash. Dollar signs. There were dollar signs everywhere. And writings in Spanish. And lines. And torn fabric. And shapes. And magazine clippings. There was some blue and orange and red, but the earthy tones were prevalent.
It was a cacophony. The emotion was raw.
There he was. The humble and jolly Carlo Polidoro Lopez. He seemingly came with his series, titled “$$$,” ever excited to greet people and to chat for ages. Enthused and candid, Lopez gave guests a tour of his works, which, at heart, is synonymous for a tour of his life.
“It’s extracting the essence, the spirit of the country and my experience,” the Ecuadorian-Canadian said about his art.
Lopez was born in Calgary and spent most of his pre-adult life in Canada, but he identifies more with his father’s Ecuadorian origins. His mother is Italian. They had moved to Ecuador when he was five years old, but returned to Canada when Lopez was 12.
He went to high school for a year in Toronto and did the rest at Montreal’s Laurier Macdonald High School. Lopez, with his mother and father, lived in the neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard at the time.
After high school, they moved back to Toronto, where Lopez worked some odd jobs.
Lopez was more mature than most students featured at a university art gallery. He’s 37, but looks younger. He stands at average height. He has a light-brown scruff with some white poking out. His hair is much darker, no white. His cheeks are plump and his eyes green. He wore sandals, cargo shorts, and a soccer jersey under a zip-up hoodie.
Having children is even less common for the average undergrad. Lopez had a 9-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. Lopez even included some of the kid’s drawings in his pieces.
He married Maria José Ricaurte, an Ecuadorian native, in 2006.
“I don’t study arts, but it’s where he puts all his feelings,” Ricaurte said.
Lopez is a deeply emotional person. He said that when Ricaurte’s father passed away, he cried more than she did. They had spent a lot of time at Ricaurte’s grandparents’ beach house, and walked along the coast during the low-tide.
Lopez depicted this memory as part of a tapestry-like canvas, titled “Oasis De La Dicha” in memory of the beach house. Ricaurte’s father was painted as a blue stick figure on brown paper. The head was drawn in pencil on white paint. The figure walked toward the house. Below, a masking tape stick figure walked on four painted squares of alternating tones of blue: the low-tide.
“Carlo has a mission, which is to feed his family. I can’t think of a better reason to be a contemporary artist than that.” —Andres Manniste
Lopez recorded the time at which he had no inspiration one night at the VA studio. He pushed himself to create nonetheless. He drew 11:25 p.m. at the top right of the tapestry. Other drawings in the collage represented his daughter, the late Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, and an abstract heart of masking tape painted blue. Masking tape separated the elements. Lopez said the tape will age, “like wine,” and turn more yellow.
At the time of the First Impressions exhibit, Lopez’s sole income was government student loans and bursaries. His family relied on Ricaurte’s babysitting work for income. Aside from the occasional sales of his art, Lopez has been working as a custodian.
Recently, Lopez’s artwork seemed to be increasingly in demand. Artists and gallery owners have spotted his work on Instagram, which Lopez uses actively. Since September, he’s travelled to New York three times, selling a piece on one occasion while planning exhibitions for this year. He takes this as a sign that he may be on the rise.
Lopez wasn’t always an artist, though he caught a glimpse of it in his mid-20s while working in a small hotel his family ran in Salinas, Ecuador.
“I always thought about making art,” Lopez said. “I would fiddle with paper from time to time and then let it go, I wouldn’t really take it seriously, but I felt something. There was some kind of energy. Something very strong.” He didn’t pursue it at the time.
In 2010, Lopez and Ricaurte settled in Montreal. Lopez, again, was working odd jobs.
After a few years, he decided he’d become a nutritionist, but first had to get a science diploma in CEGEP. At Dawson College, Lopez had taken an art elective where one of his teachers saw potential. He suggested that Lopez pursue studio arts, an idea which Ricaurte was opposed to.
“I said, ‘No. Don’t study art. It won’t get you anything,’” Ricaurte said.
She later changed her mind saying, “If Carlo likes doing art and feels happy, then he will do it well.”
“It’s like anything he touches is magical,” said Andres Manniste, a visual arts professor at Dawson. “He has an extreme and innate sense of design.”
Manniste said he’s happy to have had the chance to have Lopez in his classroom. He explained that the charm of Lopez’s work is the graceful presentation of the raw elements found in arte povera, an art that has its roots in creating works out of junk.
“It’s good to look at, period—for anybody, because it’s so crazy,” Manniste said. “What’s wonderful about his work is it looks all completely random, yet he’s got a total sense of elegance.”
Manniste said it’s a couple steps above outsider art, art which comes from “uninstructed” artists, someone who didn’t go to art school. He even suggested that Lopez’s work is akin to that of the late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“Carlo has a mission, which is to feed his family,” Manniste said. “I can’t think of a better reason to be a contemporary artist than that.”
But a few years ago, it seemed like Lopez was done. He had fallen into a depression following the loss of six family members to cancer.
“I felt nothing. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t feel love for art, for life. I didn’t know what euphoria was anymore. There’s a point where my dad would put on comedy shows so I could laugh. I would try to fake it,” he said.
“It’s a scary place. It’s worse than hell. It is hell.”
More than two years have passed since, and it would be hard to guess that had ever happened to him.
In some of his works, the year 2015 is crossed out as a symbolic gesture for his recovery.
After the VAV show, he moved shop into one of the studios in the upper floors of Concordia’s fine arts building. It looked like the gallery. The floor was grey and the walls were white. And much like in the summer, Lopez’s “$$$” works flooded the area. He’s been giving birth to a whole new series, “11 Varas,” featured at Art Matters’ BLUEPRINTS exhibition in March, at the same gallery where he was in August.
Aside from that, nothing is set in stone for Lopez. All he has is encouragement from local and international artists and the hope of a collaborative show in New York.
But what’s important for Lopez is what Ricaurte said: “He has a gift.”
Carlo Polidoro Lopez is currently featured at Concordia University’s Art Matters festival. His works are shown at Concordia’s VAV Gallery exhibit, BLUEPRINTS, at 1395 Réne-Lévesque Blvd. W. from March 5 to 16, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.