23 January 2020
We looked at some tours around Buenos Aires, but between the bus and walking with a crowd, we opted to skip these.
However, there were two or three not-quite-tours that intrigued me. All involved fileteado, the Buenos Aires art form that is used for signs and decoration. So, I signed up for a class where I would learn to paint a small example of fileteado, and another that includes a walking tour to see more examples.
My class was yesterday. And IT. WAS. WONDERFUL!!!
The class was held in the neighborhood of San Telmo, just about a mile south of our hotel, so I walked. I've been talking photos of fileteado signs when I see them, and saw this sign on my way.
But then I arrived at my destination, the Association of Fileteadores. Well, in Spanish, el Asociacion de Fileteadores. The people who paint fileteados. And I could see why this particular artist is a professional, and whoever painted the Peronismo Militante sign is basically either a beginner or an amateur.
My instructor was José Ernesto Espinosa, a Porteño - a person born in Buenos Aires. He really is a master fileteadore, his art was incredible!!! The detail, the shading, the economy of paint strokes, the composition in general - just amazing! If he lived in Japan, he'd be one of those National Treasure people, representing the best of his art form! Really!!!
Here is his Facebook page, so you can look at more of his work: www.facebook.com/Espinosa-Filetes-165248434347822/
It turned out that I was the only student who was there with the BA Tours, but there were two other students. One who was likely at an intermediate level, not a beginner like me - she was practicing what looked like letters formed with single strokes of the paintbrush. The other person, a man, seemed to be more advanced, and was working on a large sign - but at the moment, he was only painting the flowers on it.
Anyway, José drew a design on a painted wood panel, maybe about the size of a large postcard, roughly 5" x 7" I'd estimate. (12.7 x 17.78 cm) The design was drawn with white pencil, and the panel was painted deep green. (And I'm making the photos large so things are easy to see.)
I was given another panel, no drawing, and handed a brush. José said I should practice a bit with the brush. Now, this is the hard part - because the filete brush used in fileteado painting has really long bristles. I'm talking two or three times longer than the normal watercolor brush, and we were using acrylic paint, where the usual brush might be about 1/4 the length of this filete brush! The woman student showed me how to flatten my brush in the paint so I could paint a wider line with one stroke. Then turned on the side or on a corner, it would create a thin or narrow stroke of paint. Essentially, the brush could be used like a chisel point nib or marker for calligraphy.
I practiced. I played. José showed me how to make the acanthus leaves with fewer strokes - wielding that brush masterfully and twisting his hand, he accomplished with three strokes what took me about 15 minutes to carefully outline and fill in. That's the difference between a traditional painter and a fileteado painter - there's a certain sequence to creating the objects that takes advantage of the attributes of the filete brush. Not being an accomplished fileteadore, I was still painting like a traditional acrylic or oil painter.
As I finished each section, first the leaves and frame, then the light blue flower and tiny bird, and then the green vine, José would mix up the next color for me.
Then he took what he called "acrylic varnish" and what I suspect was gel medium, mixed in with a little purple paint for the shadows. He showed me how to paint a partial shadow behind the acanthus leaves and the frame, and then add slight shading on those objects. He even brought out plastic acanthus leaves he made from a Clorox bottle, using it to show me where the shadows/shading would go. So I happily added shadows and shading, in my mind's eye knowing where my light source would be, and so I could "see" where the shadows and shading should be painted.
About midway through the shadow painting process, as I was better learning how to control this crazy long brush, he looked over as I was painting and asked if I paint, as in do I do some painting on a regular basis. I said yes, I'm a retired art teacher, I paint in acrylics and watercolor, but that this brush is much longer. We spoke in Spanglish, but for art people, well, art is universal and we somehow speak the same language around the words. It worked.
Then he showed me where to add the shadows and shading on the flower and leaves, and then the tiny bird. Occasionally he would draw and then paint directly on the table, which explained why it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. Art teachers everywhere economize, and the table as a sketchpad was fine with me.
Once the shadows were completed, it was time to add highlights, using a thinner but equally long bristle brush - yellow for the acanthus and frame and green leaves, lighter blue for the flower and bird. Plus the bird got a tiny beak, and José painted the teeny tiny yellow eye for me. He also added a tinier dot of black for the pupil, with an almost microscopic dot of white - the reflection of light in the bird's eye. That one teeny tiny microscopic dot of white makes all the visual difference between a living bird and a dull or dead bird.
José then added the red center of the flower, a shadow on the center, and some tiny dots of yellow to represent the highlighted pollen.
Having been the teacher who would add a tiny detail like that to help a student, I was fine with having José add these finishing touches to my fileteado. Especially since I certainly am nowhere near as adept with the brush as he is!!!!
And that was it! Both of the other students came over to look, and were rather impressed by my lovely little fileteado. I'm guessing they've been working at this art form for a long time, and know firsthand how difficult it is. But they also don't have 25 years of teaching art behind them, which is all I had going for me. So I suspect my piece turned out better than the average tourist or traveller who comes in to the studio for an afternoon session on fileteado.
We chatted a bit, and I had to pose for a photo with my artwork and José. Then we said our goodbyes, and my new friend José gave me a big hug. I'm not quite used to how physically affectionate Argentinians can be, so I was a bit surprised - but last time, when I took the tango classes, I got kisses on my cheek, so in comparison a hug is pretty tame.
When I got back to our hotel, I took a nice white eraser to get rid of the white pencil lines. I wouldn't recommend a pink eraser, they leave residue - but the white synthetic eraser took off the visible pencil lines. Well, except the pencil that is under the bluish shadows, because the gel medium definitely works like varnish, and that pencil is now covered up.
So I had a wonderful afternoon (which lasted longer than expected, but I've always been the last student out of an art class), and I have a fabulous memento of my time in Buenos Aires! Plus I'll make another small fileteado on Sunday, as well as get more photos of wonderful examples of this special artform!!!
Note: A friend sent me the link to the UNESCO World Heritage site; filetes porteño is listed as an World Heritage Intangible!!! How cool is that!!! ich.unesco.org/en/RL/filete-porteno-in-buenos-aires-a-traditional-painting-technique-01069