Highland Park artist Raoul De la Sota spent his childhood beset by illness and practically never left home for the first eleven years of his life. But those difficult years left De la Sota, now 77, with a life-long sense of wonder, astonishment and longing to explore. It’s that sense of wonder and appreciation of the outdoors that is reflected in a current exhibition of his work, El Camino: A Journey, at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park.
As an adult, De la Sota, a former professor of Mexican American history at Los Angeles City College, has traveled widely throughout the Southwestern United States and Latin America. His explorations for a better understanding of Hispanic and Pre-Hispanic sites and their sacred cosmological value have shaped his life and artistic sensibilities. His paintings, whether on canvas, paper, or walls, express his love of the earth. And his most recent expedition along the famed El Camino de Santiago through Spain and Portugal represents that affinity. It also inspired the artist to integrate fabric and detritus into more than two-dozen landscape pieces now on exhibit.
Tell me about your current body of work.
It’s such a mix of things because of the theme: El Camino, a pilgrimage route in northern Spain that my wife and I walked for a period of months over two years, during which there were all sorts of events that occur. Some spiritual, some downright domestic and common, and the overwhelming sense that I had begun communicating with the earth …. In order to put that across in the show, I had to somehow deal with the effects of what I experienced, and that would be the textures. That’s why some works have gravel, rocks and dirt. So it’s painting, its mix media, its drawings, its watercolors there’s all sorts of things going on.
What do you hope viewers take away from this show?
I think what I want them to take away is the feeling that I got when I was there. I think that’s nearly impossible, but at the same time …. they will be able to see what my mind felt and perhaps what my eyes saw and what my feet touched.
Is there a moment along El Camino that you recall fondly?
I was walking along a path with grass on both sides and suddenly, boom, I stop because I’m looking down and I just missed stepping on a slug, a big black slug that’s crawling along across the path. And I’m looking at it for a while. It stops at a rock, takes it, looks at it, crawls over it, then goes over and looks like it nibbles on something else, then keeps going. And then I think that’s me – that’s exactly what I’m doing. I mean I stop, look at a castle up on a hill, then I stop for lunch, just like that slug … You are so similar to all life forms that have not necessarily a destination or a goal but a journey, a journey where you don’t think so much of where you are going but where you are– each step is important!
Do you remember the first painting you created?
Yes –a little painting that I did when I must have been eight or nine, that I still have, of a scene that had nothing to do with my existence It was of a place I probably wanted to escape to, of a little house out in the woods with snow.
Why do you suppose your work has mainly been about rural spaces?
The earth has become so important to me because as a young child, until the age of 11, I was sick at home with asthma. Never went out to play. I could barely breathe. I would be up all night trying to breathe, sitting up because I couldn’t breathe lying down. My mother began taking me places because she knew I was always house [bound]. We went to Yosemite and Palm Springs for days just to be out doors. I began to look at the earth differently, not being urban but being rural. My existence really began in the outdoors, and I think from that time I have held earth as sacred.
Raoul De la Sota El Camino: A Journey exhibit at Avenue 50 Studio runs through June 8, with an artist talk scheduled for Saturday, May 31 at 7 p.m.