Carlos Jacanamijoy  found the “center” of his universe. From a childhood playing next to sparkling streams in the Sibundoy Valley, to his canvas creations of imaginary worlds, the artist from the Putumayo believes happiness and anonymity lies somewhere north of the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River promenade.

During an interview for an upcoming exhibition, Jacanamijoy offers a glimpse of how emotions and landscape are an essential part of his inner self, even when he isn’t painting or writing detailed notes in a moleskin. “When in Brooklyn, I see from the window of my studio the front of an old brick building bathed by the light of the sun, and a few formless shadows which, in an endless movement, creep in a row like animals on a thick horizontal line.” He continues: “Here, the roar of the subway or the incessant traffic of cars and pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge, projected by the sun, is right in front of me, through my window. In the same way, I remember listening, among lights and shadows, to the cacophony of animals during an overwhelming night in the middle of the jungle.”

Born in Santiago, Putumayo, (b.1964), Carlos Jacanamijoy is an imposing name in contemporary Colombian art. A member of the Inga community – “Jaca”- as he is fondly known – earned a masters in Fine Art from the prestigious Universidad Nacional before completing additional studies in Philosophy and Literature at La Salle in 1990. As much as he paints, he muses like a poet, aspires to play his grand piano and is a student of many languages.

From a lofty studio in Bogotá’s La Macarena neighbourhood, Carlos Jacanamijoy, is busy with the final touches on a series of large canvas paintings  sure to dazzle for their expressive use of color and technique. Painting with oil and daubs of acrylic, the artist has been on a creative journey capturing early memories of his life in a jungle community and later, New York’s great concrete jungle. “It’s about time and how all things future are rooted in a past,” says ‘Jaca’ perched on his wooden bench and drinking herbal tea. “The idea is to explore where I am coming from and where I have passed through – Bogotá. All of this leaves us with plenty of marks.”

New York was a recent adventure which has left its indelible “mark” on the artist and from which he draws wall to wall inspiration. “There was a lot of information coming at me,” he recalls from a self-imposed hiatus in which he visited galleries in Chelsea, as well as taking in every possible exhibition at the MOMA, the Metropolitan and artist studios in the thriving Dumbo district.

Jacanamijoy paints with a vibrant palatte.
Jacanamijoy paints with a vibrant palatte.

Yet despite the cultural energies of Manhattan, Jacanamijoy sensed certain isolation. Accompanied on this emotional journey with his wife Zoraida Iguarán and their two sons, Carlos saw how people were lonely, endured solitary lives and related to others only through objects and purchasing power. “At times I felt very cut-off from everything I knew,” claims the painter acknowledging that Bogotá is the city he calls “home” and which offers a right balance for art and family.

Jacanamijoy came to painting naturally, inspired by the day trips he would take with his grandfather into the Andean wetlands of his youth. As part of an extended family of tribal leaders and shamans, expressing both the known and unseen worlds, was part of life’s plan, as indigenous art draws on visual metaphors from the ritual of weaving textiles, to facial and body painting.

True to his Inga heritage, Jacanamijoy managed to embrace the free forms of native art to an individualistic expression of European expressionism. Striking balance – this time between being a father and a painter – ‘Jaca’ found himself in demand to show his work to a global audience. Today, a painting by Jacanamijoy is a unique acquisition in any art collection.

If Fernando Botero is a master of the robust and the figurative, Jacanamijoy is organic and structured chaos. His paintings are abstract in as much as once you have identifed his approach, his paintings delve into a subconscious, dream-like, state. His work is hypnotic, ambitious, and bursts from each canvas like the final lights of  Amazonian fireflies.

Drawn to all things nature: from the verdant fields of New England with its changing autumn colors, to the white cityscapes of Central Park, Jacanamijoy relishes that in New York one can talk as freely about the Putumayo as one can about the latest exhibiton in SoHo.  Explaining to friends, that his native territory is so much more than an alternative record label or a place where coca is grown, the painter feels part of his artistic raison d’être is cultural pollination. “We tend to be ashamed by what is ours. At times, I felt like the object of study was myself. I don’t need to walk around in feathers to be who I am.”

Like big city residents, Carlos and family, enjoyed  the Big Apple to the fullest. From taking in a game at Yankee Stadium, to navigating the New York City subway, the artist claims that his sons quickly adapted to the American way of life. “My sons are New Yorkers.”

Having withdrawn from the Bogotá art circuit for a defined period in his life, Jacanamijoy returned invigorated by his experiences overseas and opens an important retrospective of his work in September at Bogotá’s Museum of Modern Art (MamBo). While placing importance on traveling and understanding cultural differences that each and everyone of us is burdened with from the start of our lives, the artist is a pragmatist on universal themes. “Suffering is the same there, as it is here. When one travels one becomes an anthroplogist.”

Jacanamijoy delights in the fact that he is able to promote Colombia to a growing art audience internationally. “There is this fascination with our cultures, that is no longer rooted in ‘magic realism’,” says Carlos. “I would tell them about Cartagena, my village in the Sibundoy Valley and how we still ride horses.” More often than not, Carlos got this response: “I want to go.”

Enthusiastic about the future, Jaca’s paintings have been accepted in the Smithsonian and at Christies. With this first retrospective at the MamBo, we get a deep insight into the life of an artist and what he looks for at the “center” of his universe. From a respect for ‘self’ and his cultural identity, to a ‘magical’ palatte of colors, the artist known as ‘Jaca,’ will grace the walls with his vision of memories.

Carlos Jacanamijoy “Magia, Memoria, Color 1992-2013″

MamBo. Calle 24 No.6-00