I have to confess to a quite extensive ignorance, until very recently, of the rich artistic culture of the tiny Central American country of El Salvador. Above the main entrance of Westminster Abbey, here in London, there stands a rendition in stone of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24 1980 by a CIA-backed death squad while saying mass, in the early stages of what would become a horrific, decade-long civil war.
So my abiding impression of this tiny country was one of darkness and pain.
What a delightful surprise it was, therefore, to discover the work of an artist like Fernando Llort, a Salvadoran artist who died only this year. Llort, described by some cultural institutions in the country as El Salvador's National Artist, produced bright, colourful, joyous paintings and murals, as well as a range of handicrafts. They have been described by some as reminiscent of the playfulness of Joan Miro.
Llort originally studied architecture before moving to Europe to continue his studies in theology in France and then Belgium, before settling on art while in the USA. To escape the tense political situation in the cities and large towns of his home country, Llort and a group of other artists moved to the town of La Palma, in the mountains up in the north of El Salvador, quite close to the border with Honduras.
Here they led a simple life, getting to know the landscape and people of the town well, and where Llort began to paint in the simple, two-dimensional primary colours he would later become synonymous with, where nature blends with day-to-day rural life. They carved handicrafts out of wood and sold them from their own Semilla de Dios (Seed of God) workshop, inspiring a local handicrafts movement, with many more cooperative workshops soon opening up in the local area.
Llort maintained his connections with the local handicrafts movement around La Palma even after he was forced to return to San Salvador.
You can see the work of Fernando Llort on his official website: https://www.fernando-llort.com