Chance is a wild card. For Lidya Buzio that card was played early, in fact, at birth. In 1948, after her arrival, her family moved to a newly built house on 5526 Caramurú Street in the partly developed, upscale suburb of Punta Gorda in Montevideo. There was one other house being built on their street, two lots down, at number 5510. That home would have a decisive impact on Buzio’s future.
Above image: Lidya Buzio in Studio.
A white-haired, bearded older man would arrive daily to inspect progress at the other house. He was Joaquín Torres García, a painter and South America’s greatest modernist. Born in Uruguay in 1874, he then spent forty-three years, most of his adult life, in Europe, beginning as muralist for Antonio Gaudí. By 1917 he was heading towards abstraction and was close to Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian and other key figures in the Modernist movement.
His house was completed in 1949. Alas, Torres García only lived there for a few months, dying at the age of 75. His widow, Manolita Piña, remained in the house for another 45 years until she passed away at the remarkable age of 111. The petite Manolita, a fierce advocate of human rights and left-wing politics, was an exceptionally kind and warm woman and soon became a second mother to the Buzio siblings.
For Lidya, “the house breathed art,” including ceramics by Torres and other artists shown here working in the 1950’s. These artists were strongly influenced by early indigenous pottery. “Growing up in this Bohemian milieu meant that becoming artist was a given as far back as I can remember.” She was 12 when her sister Cecilia married Horacio, Torres García’s youngest son, and as a member of the Torres Garcia family she now had access to the finest private schooling in painting, not just from her brother-in-law, but from leading Uruguayan painters Gonzalo Fonseca, Guillermo Fernández and José Montes who were part of the Taller.
Increasingly being drawn to ceramics by her late teens she enrolled as a student of the Catalan artist Josep Collell. Becoming an apprentice, she was taking an unusual path for a woman from a bourgeois family. (She was so shy that after three weeks of not speaking in her class Collell told others she was mentally ill).
In 1967, after two years with Collell, Buzio set up her own studio (with the gift of Collell’s first kiln) and for the next four years she made her own work and gave classes to children.
The Torres García retrospective in 1972 at the Guggenheim Museum brought Buzio to New York City. Cecilia and Horacio were already living in Greenwich Village and Buzio decided to stay permanently, focusing on New York and its buildings for subject matter much as Torres García has done in the 1920’s.
Buzio shifted her architectural focus and home to SoHo but found the transition to the New York art scene to be very difficult. Coming from an arts community that was more socialist than capitalist, she found American culture disconcerting with its focus on careerism, money and success. “Yes, we had to earn money but doing, seeing and talking about art was as important. It was a life [a religion] not a business”. Also she encountered a rigid hierarchy of materials in which ceramics was marginalized in the crafts. In Uruguay this was not the case and this demotion of her medium and her art was extremely painful.
I was in New York in 1982, having just opened the Garth Clark Gallery in LA and planning one in New York. One day I was visiting the ceramists Anne and Jim Walsh. They had set up a workshop where painters, sculptors and other non-ceramists could make art with the couple providing technical assistance. Both had worked with Margie Hughto in Syracuse, New York for her “New Works in Clay” project, inviting painters and sculptors to work in ceramics including Anthony Caro, who became a friend of Lidya’s and Helen Frankenthaler.
On my way out, already halfway through the door, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pile of rags out of which peeked part of a pot with a radiant blue sky and white clouds. I asked to see it. My first impression was of magical unity; form, color and material were all one. The imagery of downtown Manhattan hugged the vessel’s sensual curving shape, disappeared and reemerged from the pot’s volume, a constant kinetic shifting inwards and outwards. And it had a quality of being both ancient and contemporary at the same time, an archaic pot from an imaginary Peruvian archeological site.
Walsh arranged for me to visit Buzio at her studio later that day. I arrived, introduced myself and told her that Mark Del Vecchio, my husband and I, had just opened an art gallery in Los Angeles for ceramics. I immediately offered her representation and a one-person show. It was evident that she was not taking me seriously; she was very polite but her eyes telegraphed something between skepticism and disbelief. Luckily Walsh was able to vouch for us and the first of many exhibitions with us, Lidya Buzio: SoHo Roofscapes, took place in January 1983.
The gifted writer Ed Lebow wrote at length about this show’s works in his essay “Duple Rhythms.” It remains the most instructive, perceptive and poetic explanation of Buzio’s architectural work beginning with a matter of fact introduction to her processes.
Buzio builds her forms from earthenware slabs. Through simple geometric combinations of cylinders, cones and hemispheres, she arrives at a restrained variety of globes, bottles, double-lobed gourds and wide-mouthed vases, even teapots.
The forms are spare, providing a volumetric ground for her rambling panoramas of city facades and rooflines. Their burnished and lightly waxed skin of underglaze pigments seems to merge with the red clay body, rather than rest like a ponderous coating over it. So there is an enhanced sense of peering into the scenes, just as we would peer into the volume of an undecorated form.”
Lebow argues that like so many of the ancient Greek and Pre-Columbian painted wares he admires…
“Many of Buzio’s scenes “don’t swath the entire contour, but begin at an equatorial band resting just below the inward turn of the forms. From there, the band of rooflines swells toward the top, giving way to a mottled sky which runs to the edge of a small geometric opening.”
But what intrigued him most were unexpected functions of space within her art from urban rhythms:
“Looming, them diminishing masses of curbside walls, and of the near and far axes of streets pluck around the girth of her vessels like uneven teeth on a broken comb; one tall, one short, wide gaps, then brief. A diving tangent runs into a rising edge, shifts downward, laterally, and up again with a converging cornice, eaves or sharp peak, rising, falling, now gradually, abruptly. Through this gamboling pace, Buzio neatly splices pictorial space with realm and along the way she cheats the eye.”
When Buzio concentrates simply on painting, however, her taut compositions carry our glance in an unimpeded sweep around the pot. This constant motion enables us to see the character of the form, at its edges, and the pictorial consequence of its volume, at the center.”
Again Lebow weighs in:
“We weigh them simultaneously and feel the tension of their contradictory spatial messages. And as our awareness pulses from one to the other, constantly comparing, the accompanying shift of thought questions “which is the true space of these pots?”
“Between them we feel what Roger Shattuck calls an “essential discrepancy,” a “meaningful error” that is crucial not only to Buzio’s images, but to our experience of three-dimensional space itself…And we experience a cogent space that comes and goes in a duple rhythm of expansion and containment, a rhythm that manifests sparkling exchanges between memory and recognition and the massive shifts from waking to dreaming.”
That was the beginning a long (but not long enough) friendship and working relationship for Lidya, my partner Mark Del Vecchio and myself. She was a delight in so many ways, tougher than she seemed, often stubborn (mostly over issues of principles about her art) but also with the most delightful personality, vibrant and humorous. Looking back, more than anything else, she was brave. She struggled at times, never gave up (although she always threatened to) and that courage succored at the end as well.
Almost every day the image of her, petite and blonde, shy but impishly charming, comes to mind; the bittersweet memory, of time shared and a friend lost.
Lidya Buzio, artist, sculptor, and ceramist, died of cancer on Sept. 30, 2014 at her home in Greenport, Long Island, at age 65.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile
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