Professor Pena’s artwork for the 2017 Memphis in May Festival was unveiled at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on February 2. Below is his acceptance speech from that night. The poster is available at a cost of $30 each — with the limited edition, signed and numbered, collector’s poster at a cost of $60 each — at Midtown Framer & Art and at 1910 Frameworks.
“Good evening. First I would like to thank the Memphis in May staff and supporters for continuing to encourage and showcase the arts, on various levels in Memphis; throughout the year and specifically during the month of May. Congratulations on your 40th anniversary!
“Thank you Bobbi Gillis for that warm introduction. Thank you Susan Elliott (Director of Programming), James Holt (President & CEO), Carley Kirby (Program Manager), Kevin Grothe (VP of Sponsorship), and Elle (an MIM intern from Rhodes) for making me feel welcomed when visiting your offices and guiding me through the process of being a resident poster artist.
“Thank you to my friends and family here tonight, each of you are dear to me and have supported my artistic endeavors throughout the years and I am forever grateful. Jana Travis, a special thank you for your support, as a colleague, fellow artist, and friend.
“A special thank you to my dad and step-mother Marijean for being here this evening, they have traveled all the way from Northern Illinois to be here tonight. Dad and Marijean, your continued support of me and my family is more than a son can ask for -I love you both.
“Finally, to my beautiful wife and daughter. Cat and Mia, I would not be able to continue my artistic practice without the sacrifices you make, daily, to ensure that I have time in our collective studio. I love you more than you know! Mia, never stop wondering, never stop using your imagination; cultivating these traits will inspire you to find answers about the world around you.
“In the process of designing the MIM poster I felt fortunate to have an opportunity to research one of the richest and biologically diverse countries in the world. For an artist interested in landscape and architecture I knew I would have a wealth of content to reference — from the Amazon rain-forest to the bustling city of Bogota, and from the Andes to the coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean — Colombia is rich in diversity and culture. As I researched the symbolism and icons that identify Colombia to the world, the nation’s flag weighed heavy. As an artist, the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are the foundation for understanding color theory and at the heart of painting. The symbolism of the color yellow in Colombia’s flag stands for richness and wealth of its diverse nature and people. Blue represents the multiple bodies of water that shape Colombia’s landscape making them one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. Finally, the color red commemorates the lives lost while capturing the nations independence and the determination and perseverance of the Colombian people.
“Reflecting on the symbolism and icons of the Colombian landscape, people, and culture I created a painting that represents the contrast and harmony between nature and man, representation and abstraction, and past and present.
Copyright: Nicolas R. Pena. Not for use without artist’s permission.
“The painting is a composite of images from the Colombian landscape. I focused on the northern, central, and southern regions while collecting a stockpile of reference images. I was interested in finding a balance between the various ranges of topical elevations, natural resources, and how the people of Colombia develop and prosper in diverse conditions.
“Coffee is set in the foreground for many reasons: its popularity, its color during maturity (red), its agricultural value to the country and small family-owned farms. I decided to show it two ways: as a mature red bean, to represent the determination to meet the world demand for Colombian coffee, and the perseverance to deliver year after year; and as an emphasized, by scale and color, roasted ‘dark’ bean. This emphasis is used to establish its importance, not only in the painting, but as an export in the Colombian economy.
“Flowers are another important export and are grown on the highland plains. A white orchid shares the foreground with coffee because of its national symbolism and long standing symbolism across various cultures. A white orchid has been thought to signify innocence, elegance, beauty, and humility. I wanted viewers to think of reverence and new beginnings while looking at, or through, the white orchid to see the ‘painted landscape.’ The blue, seemingly pristine, water also leads the viewer into the image and represents the ‘life blood’ of existence for Colombia’s landscape and prosperity of their population.
“Directly in the middle of the composition are various man-made structures; the color yellow prevails, representing the wealth of Colombia’s diverse and robust population and the richness of its folklore. Stories of El Dorado had my attention when thinking about gold and South America however, I wanted the structures to look both humble and, at the same time, unattainable. Although, viewers might find it hard to see wealth from the modestly represented architecture, I hope it reads as a structure in flux — both near and far, realized and noticeably un-tethered from the landscape.
“Finally, the apex, man overcoming nature. ‘La Piedra del Peñol,’ also known as ‘El Peñon de Guatape,’ or Guatape Rock, is a 721 foot tall National Monument, found in Colombia’s central state of Antioquia. It grabbed my attention because of the large serpentine staircase zigzagging up to the summit where a man-made tower rests on top of the rock. Advertised as the ‘best view in the world’ by the locals Guatape Rock, for me, is a symbol for the contrast and harmony between nature and man, and past and present.
“In the end, I would like to, again, thank Memphis in May and the selection committee for this opportunity and congratulations on your 40th year of impacting the city of Memphis with your commitment to promoting Memphis culture, supporting the arts, and enhancing international awareness and diversity through education.”