Jacqueline Unanue, Chilean artist, opens a show at St. Asaph Gallery
As spectators filed in on September 16, the windows of the round gallery stayed open to let in a dying summer breeze, inviting the confusion of Jacqueline Unanue’s recently hung paintings with more windows. Though they may not be windows in a traditional sense, these selected works from two new series do serve a similar function: they let in the light and colors of a space external to us. Journeys: Catalonia & Euskadi shows the abstracted landscapes of the artist’s ancestral home, specifically two regions of the country which she’s gotten to know on various visits but also through family stories and a map she remembers hanging in her grandparents’ house.
In an interview, Unanue described her art as “very geographic,” but for her it’s also “more than landscape.”
“They’re physical landscapes, but also internal geography, geography of the soul,” she said.
In each painting, colors evoke the earth, the sky, or the ocean. Above these blurry forms, a piece of street map is scratched with its blocks enlarged, reimagined as geometric forms in the style of Miró or Gaudí.
This fascination with maps has pursued Unanue since her childhood. Her paternal grandfather was born in Euskadi (Basque Country), but he died when she was only 3 years old, and until her first trip to Spain 29 years ago her connection with her motherland was composed of artifacts: the map her grandmother still displayed, and the letters which arrived every once in awhile from her Spanish cousins.
“To travel to my grandfather’s homelands, to be met with the lands where he lived, the place where he was baptized...all this, for me, was very exciting,” Unanue explained. “It filled in all of the stories I’d heard about him, filled them in with real earth, not just symbolism.”
Now that her mother and sister live in Catalonia, Unanue has had more opportunities to get to know Spain. In fact, these two series, Journey Catalonia and Journey Euskadi, have already been shown in Barcelona. This is the first time that they are reaching an American audience.
Unanue has lived in Philadelphia for 16 years, but the connections she maintains with Chile, her home country, were very clear during the opening. The lines inscribed like code on each painting reminded me of the rock art that Unanue studied as a university student. And it was also noteworthy that the Chancellor of the Chilean Consulate in Philadelphia, Mónica Núñez, was present, and referred to the exposition as a point of “national pride.”
“To travel to my grandfather’s homelands was very exciting. It filled in all of the stories I’d heard about him, filled them in with real earth, not just symbolism.”
The event’s organizers were equally enthusiastic. “I’ve seen Jacqueline’s work for years and always admired it,” said Roy Hawker, the Director of Music and the Arts at St. Asaph. “It’s colorful, it’s energetic, and at the same time it’s very serene.” Rev. Barry Harte, of St. Asaph Church, expressed his appreciation in similar terms.
The experience of living at a distance from one’s roots is fundamentally American and also very characteristic of the Latino community. Unanue, for her part, has enjoyed much success in her efforts to reconnect. Now she’s hoping that those who come to see her paintings do so “with an open mind, so they’re able to discover, in my landscapes, a bit of their own.”
The show will be open until its replacement on October 16 in St. Asaph Gallery in Bala Cynwyd, from Monday through Friday, 9–3.