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LUCILLE WONG PAINTER, ENGRAVER AND DRAUGHTSWOMAN
Robin Bond

THE SKIN OF MEMORY
Alfonso Sánchez Arteche

THE NUDE IN LUCILLE WONGS'S PAINTING
E.R.Blackaller

 

XINANTÉCATL: SCORCHED TIME
MY TRIP TO SEVEN VOLCANIC ENCLAVES

Lucille Wong

     

 
 

XINANTÉCATL: SCORCHED TIME

MY TRIP TO SEVEN VOLCANIC ENCLAVES

Lucille Wong



Santorini (584 m). Although the trip over the Aegean Sea was plagued by bad weather, it did not affect either the reason for or spirit of our journey. In fact, it was a celebratory voyage. Long-desired and for many other reasons, this trip meant visiting a land beloved for its art and culture. However, due to the storm, our ship's route was considerably modified, which implied another ship, itinerary and reduced traveling time. Although our departure was delayed, after a few hours' wait at Pireas, a large, half-empty ship finally set sail for the Cyclades over a rough sea and under a stormy sky.

The storm was so intense that it cracked the ship's thick glass; the deck remained empty during the day and we had to strap ourselves into our bunks to sleep. That morning, as the wind blew strongly, creating such a marvelous feeling on one's face, I decided to go to the bow. There was no-one there. I sat on a wooden chair next to the rail and simply tried to feel the wind, observe the vigorous swell and taste the foam. The landscape was amazing, the clouds appeared to gather on the horizon, a whole range of gray shades stretched out before us and the Aegean Sea roared. I thought of Odysseus.

The weather got worse and I clutched the chair as I realized that I would lose my balance if I stood up. So, I decided to remain seated even though I was drenched. Fortunately, I was soon saved by four sailors who had arrived with a thick rope to close off the section. They rescued me from my chair with a smile and led me by the arm to my cabin.

After such a long delay, we finally arrived in Santorini at midnight. As only a few people were still up, a rubber dinghy sufficed to take a small party to the island. The sea was still rough as the small vessel labored on towards the port. However, the night was clear and fresh with a velvet sky as we eventually began our climb. The narrow path was well lit, the amber light, discrete. Enjoying the silence, the rustic beauty of the houses with their white facades and irregular steps, wooden doors and colored flowerpots, three of us climbed to the highest point where there was a small vista point. From here, we could see Thera, or rather modern-day Santorini, as though a dovecot, a hive clinging to a steep cliff: the convulsed geography created by a catastrophic explosion 3,500 years ago created a testimony that still disturbs the imagination. The shadow of Thera slept above Santorini. Below, our ship rested, protected in the cove of the old port. How peaceful!

This was the first of many wonderful moments that characterized the journey. Getting to know Greece through settlements dating from the Minoic period was a particularly good idea. The small museum of Heraklion was an inexhaustible source of unforgettable images. Complete frescoes that once decorated the rooms of houses and palaces generously displayed images of fruit, birds, flowers, children and adolescents fishing. Through utensils and fine traces, happy voices sang a song to life that was more than three thousand years old. In the early spring of 1971, a humid and vibrant Greece greatly exceeded all our expectations of joy, intelligence, harmony and beauty.

Fujiyama (3776 m). My experience at Fuji was as beautiful, brief, unforgettable and profound as a haiku poem. Standing before the immense Lake Hakone and surrounded by a beautiful landscape of leafy, exuberant forests, springs and waterfalls, the volcano rose up in all its perfection in a serene, luminous day.

Before deciding on England, I had intended to the study art in Kyoto, a desire that was never fulfilled. I now understand why, in 1974, my crucible was not Japan, but rather Great Britain. Although I had missed the 36 Panoramic Views of Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei) painted by Hokusai, standing there before this sacred mountain, I was filled with clarity: nature articulates strength and tranquility through a perfect form. This sole, fleeting glimpse became a kind of enlightenment that has remained with me ever since.

Monte Etna (3323 m). My first visit to Mount Etna was like something out of a photograph; it was a fabulous day in Taormina, Sicily. Dating back to the time of the Greeks, this walled city looks out over the open land of Mount Taurus, a cliff overhanging the sea. Well-conserved, ancient ruins impose their presence; among them, one unforgettable image was the small theater located on the mountainside. Its white steps not only face the stage, but also offer a splendid panoramic view of the ocean, cliffs, horizon and majestic Mount Etna in the distance. I immediately felt an enormous desire to climb Europe’s highest volcano. A few days later, Amalia –an Italian friend I met at Kent University– and I were on board a “jeepone” on the road to the crater. The road wound up amid trees and orange groves that gradually thinned out as we climbed upwards. Suddenly, as the vegetation disappeared, so did the rustic, unpaved road. We now drove directly over lava rocks, very fast to prevent the wheels from slipping; it was very steep and we had no safety belts. I remember this trip as though I had been bouncing around inside an enormous blender, desperately trying to hold on to avoid banging my head. I was completely shaken up and unable to observe, let alone enjoy the landscape. Now that I think about it, this trip reflected months of insecurity, conflict and discouragement that finally decided my vocation. I was studying literature, but every fiber of my being wished to paint. Until I finally made my decision, my life was just like the road to Etna’s crater: abrupt, difficult and painful, requiring all my energy just to remain stable. However, the inner road culminated with the determination to paint, while the volcano road led me to the purity of color. When I got out of the car, I found the colors more clear, pure and intense than I had ever remembered them. The blue was immense as the crystal-clear sky embraced me; a few well-defined, low clouds were white with sunlight. Yellow sulfur covered the ground as small plumes of gas with their characteristic odor emerged everywhere. We climbed to the crater on foot; it was enormous, a perfectly defined circle with an abysmal black interior. I stretched out as far as the ground would permit and gazed into the bottomless mineral darkness, the Earth inviting me to explore its center. I had to take a step back. As we climbed down, a small distant red dot stood out against the lava landscape. It was our “jeepone” and served to complete my direct encounter with the three basic colors and black and white: living, dense, overpowering, vibrant colors.

Mauna Loa (4169 m). The volcanic islands of Hawaii form an arc amid the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. Seeing them shine through the clouds is a truly unique spectacle. After flying for hours over the ocean, reaching Hawaii is rather like arriving at your point of origin or a kind of omphalos in the middle of the water, a landscape connected to the bottom of the globe. Here, the land generates itself through the viscous flow of lava; although there are no explosions, it is nonetheless constant and unstoppable.

I like to visit the islands one by one and discover them in all their unsuspected magnitude. The first time I had the opportunity to do this was when I visited the main island, Hawaii, which is formed by five volcanoes. Only Mauna Loa and Kilauea are still active. Our guide, a worthy Hawaiian proud of his culture and with an ancestral spirit, assumed responsibility for turning a tourist trip into a cosmic voyage. Long, slow walks were accompanied by a world vision and dialogue with nature. My sister and I learned to look at the stars and navigate by them, recognize medicinal plants, hunt with a bow and arrow, survive in the mountains and visit sacred places. We achieved all of this thanks to the person who, for days, guided us along untrodden paths always featuring the majestic presence of the world's largest volcano. Mauna Loa awakened the sensation of a continuous, sequential renovation: the land grows, the ocean is enriched, the day and night skies seem infinite. That was how we began a fascinating and endless journey through the Southern Pacific in 1986.

New Zealand and the South Pacific islands. When I visited New Zealand and the South Pacific islands, I was able to indulge my curiosity regarding Polynesian culture and, thanks to the Maori, my vision of geology as exemplified by geysers.

The Maori have conserved simple customs rooted in nature. They are surrounded by an unusual, severe environment with rich soils; theirs is truly a majestic, fierce and millenarian land. Graced by its steel blue views, the land belches sulfurous smoke and boiling mud and is dotted with innumerable geysers. Totally adapting to these wild and dramatic volcanic lands over the last thousand years, Maori settlements simply blend in. It is suffice to find a small geyser for cooking and build a cabin next to it. This opportunity to witness daily community life amid smoke and vapors is vividly recorded in my memory.

However, 1986 was a special year because we were able to look up at the night sky and see Haley’s Comet. While searching for it, I saw the Southern Hemisphere night sky for the first time, one of the most unexpected and greatest gifts of my entire life. The South offers a different view of our galaxy, other stars and constellations. The view of the center of the galaxy, often called the backbone of the night, is indescribable. Accordingly, being able to observe an infinite number of stars during totally dark ocean nights as we traveled from island to island, from volcano to volcano, was a true privilege. My sister and I appropriated the best spot on the ship to admire this spectacle, albeit with certain difficulty due to the strong gusts of wind that buffeted us as we approached the bow on the fifth deck in total darkness. While standing, it was almost impossible to keep your balance in such a strong wind. We decided to sit on the floor so that the rail would shelter us and allow us to relax and tranquilly contemplate the heavenly vault. As we lost the line of the horizon and looked upwards, we felt as though we were traveling into the stars.

Tierra de Fuego. The spectacular images of the Andes that we enjoyed during our 1987 trip to Argentina culminated with an aerial view of the Tierra del Fuego volcanoes. Seen from the aircraft with absolute clarity, the landscape seemed like an enormous chain of snowcapped mountains; and, as we descended into a magnificent canyon, I felt as though I could simply stretch out my hand and touch them. Reaching this disconcerting landscape was no mean feat. In Santa Cruz, our previous stop, the regular airline crew was replaced by specialized Army personnel trained to land at Ushuaia, which is considered as one of the three most difficult airports in the world. Descending through such a narrow canyon meant dealing with powerful gusts of wind that only a highly trained pilot could handle by performing acrobatic maneuvers. As a result, all the passengers on that memorable flight were glued to the windows on both sides of the aircraft, gazing at an infinite array of volcanoes, snowy peaks and blue skies.

Xinantécatl (4690 m). Lost somewhere in my memory I have the hazy image of a visit to the Nevado de Toluca Volcano during my childhood. I can't remember anything about the road or having spent several hours at the crater. However, I do remember the exact moment when I reached its edge and looked down into a place brimming with a strong irradiation where the Earth speaks. I have felt this exact same sensation over and over again during my subsequent visits to volcanoes.

In January, I work in this city surrounded by volcanoes. The luminous sky marking the start of 2004 has offered us the gift of transparent atmospheres that enable us to admire the great blue sky of Mexico City. In the distance, the profiled snowy peaks of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl are intensified. A little farther away, Xinantécatl occupies my mind. Its silence and lagoons are still present in my memory a year after having visited its crater. Majestic and inscrutable, the Nevado de Toluca Volcano is Mexico's fourth highest peak. A winding road leads to the summit through dense oak and fir trees. During the ascent, the volcano allows us to glimpse a silhouette crowned by snowy peaks that gives the impression that its summit was wrenched away by an explosive eruption, leaving behind a series of jagged points.

The sensitive spirits of writers and poets have been enchanted by the serene, starry, cold nights that descend into the valley from the volcano. However, one in particular, Dr. Atl, with his passion for Mexico's volcanoes, its heights and skies, storms and intense light, has taught and accompanied me during my experience of painting this magnificent volcano.

On my second trip to Xinantécatl in March 2003, I had the privilege of being accompanied by a group of artists including Alberto Jiménez Quinto and his indispensable assistant Hortensia Hernández Durán, whom, through their plastic vision, further enriched this reencounter with the volcano.

Volcanoes. There are volcanoes all over the world. They emerge from great cracks in the Earth. The Pacific Ocean is surrounded by an almost continuous volcanic chain. The extensive mountain range of the Americas features a considerable number: the main ones are located in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Chile. Volcanoes are located upon lines where the resistance of the Earth’s crust is weakest, and the most active are grouped at the points where these dislocations have been most severe. Enciclopedia Espasa Calpe.

 

XINANTÉCATL

     invincible fire and scorched time
     land and magma
     ice and thunder
     gale, storm
     lava and fire

     inhabited crucible: murmuring silence
     water, life
     air, storm clouds
     cold vortex
     mirror and voice

     beautiful moon brimming with sun
     sunny lagoon in the moonlight
     inner voice that clamors
     world, sky
     landscape, mist

     vertex and nostalgia
     trace of cloud and a reflection in the soul
     past song, future voices
     beating heart
     nature and space
     infinite time, endless death
     firmament and direction

     sulfur and metal
     diamond and ash
     cube, sphere
     land, volcano


Bibliography: Lucille Wong: Tiempo abrasado. Catalog. Bilingual edition, spanish, english. Texts by Leonel Sánchez, Lucille Wong and Alfonso Sánchez Arteche. Museo de Bellas Artes de Toluca, 2005. 65 illustrations. 40pp.

 
 
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