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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gonzalo Endara Crow

Lioviendo Companas (Raining Bells), 1987, Gonzalo Endara Crow

Gonzalo Endara Crow
When we Americans think and talk about Folk Art, we, in our provincial narrow-mindedness, tend to think only of American Folk Art of the Grandma Moses variety. The artsy among us, after a moment's thought, might bring to mind the work of French artist, Henri Rousseau. Of course, virtually every culture on earth has its own brand of folk art. Take the country of Ecuador, for instance. For those who were absent the day they taught South American geography, as the name suggest, simply look for the equator on the map then move your finger west to the Pacific Ocean and...BINGO...there you are. It's not a big place, once a part of neighboring Colombia to the north, and before that a colony of Spain (WAAY to the East for those really geographically challenged). Judging by the number of Ecuadoran street artists who imitate his style, Gonzalo Endara Crow is probably the most famous Ecuadoran artist in modern times. Which brings up something of a quandary: much of his work looks like that of a self-taught folk artist, but in fact, Endara Crow was University-trained.

El Tren Volador (The Flying Train), 1970s, Gonzalo Endara Crow
(one of several versions).
Gonzalo Endara Crow was born in Bucay, Ecuador, in 1936. He died in 1996. In his mid-thirties (1971), Endara Crow studied at Central University in Quito, his hometown, and incidentally, the capital of Ecuador (my own geography was deficient in that regard). His El Tren Volador (The Flying Train, above) painted around that time, is considered his best work, though he seems to have painted a dozen or so versions. However, in order to begin to know and understand Gonzalo Endara Crow, you also need to know something about Ecuador and Quito. As with most folk artists, this man and his art is a reflection of his background, his country, his era, and his culture. Endara Crow's father worked for the railroad, which would explain his son's fascination with trains. He also had a fascination with eggs, which completely escapes me, (and apparently others too).

Untitled, 1990, Gonzalo Endara Crow. Mt Pichincha, with flying train and apples or oranges. He apparently tired of painting colored eggs.
Ecuador, as mentioned earlier, lies right on the equator. That rings up images of dense jungle, dense heat, and dense humidity, right? That would be true except for the fact that Ecuador straddles the Andes. Endara Crow's home town of Quito is 9,225 feet above seal level. The average temperature, year round, is a steady 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). The other important item you should know about Quito is visual--Mt. Pichincha. It is the second highest active volcano in the world, last erupting in 1999. It has its own glacier (on the equator, no less). That being the case, the greatest direct threat from a Mt. Pichincha eruption is not pyroclastic but a muddy flood. Mt. Pichincha hovers over the city of Quito (about five miles outside of town) much like an Ecuadoran Mt. Fuji (which it resembles). It hovers over Endara Crow's art as well. Yet, his Untitled (above) from 1990, which features both the mountain and his trademark flying train, is not the work of a typical folk artist...unless you count Surrealism as folk art. Some have called it Magic Realism. All of which seeks to put the artist in a box, complete with label and shipping instructions, ready for export north at least as far as Mexico, where his work is popular.

Monumental art by Gonzalo Endara Crow
The evidence seen in Endara Crow's lifetime work is that of a folk artist who outgrew the label. When does a folk artist cease being a folk artist and become something else? When he or she takes their first art class? When they enroll in an institute of higher education? When they begin to assimilate styles from outside their native culture? For several years during the 1970s, Endara crow taught at an art school. Does that remove him from the ranks of a folk artist. He also dabbled in sculpture, leaving behind his monumental "El Choclo" (corn, above, left) and "El Colibrí" (hummingbird, above, right) in the nearby community of Sangolqui. In America, folk artists have come to be called "Outsiders" in that their art is "outside" the mainstream. In Ecuador however, Endara Crow could hardly be considered an Outsider in that, having been deceased for more than fifteen years, any number of local artist have taken to imitating his style, colors, and content, making this difficult-to-label artist now Ecuador, at least.

Ecuadorian Dawn, Gonzalo Endara Crow.
From Folk Art to Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism in one lifetime.



  1. I'm curious to know about the source of the photograph of the artist Endara Crow. It doesn't look like the pictures I have seen of him in his books. Could you tell me if this is an authentic picture?

  2. Benjamin--

    Thank you for bringing my error to my attention. It would appear that somehow, I posted a photo of the Ecuadorian painter Félix Arauz instead of that of Endara Crow. I have corrected the error. It's been three years ago so it's hard to say how the error occurred. I do appreciate your reading my stuff and your willingness to question my source.