Ultra-prepared and eager, I set off in the taxi an hour before I was to meet the famous Peruvian artist that is Vito Loli. Traffic was kind this morning and I arrived within twenty minutes, plenty of time to go through again the questions I had prepared to ask him. I later found out this wasn’t really necessary as I got everything I wanted just from letting him talk away.
I wasn’t going to struggle in finding his house; the front was open with a roof-awning covering a wonderful display of his art work on the walls. Various other pieces were lying around, some wrapped up, and others open, but all beautiful paintings. As soon as I stepped into the house, I was taken aback by the sight; huge canvas paintings spread themselves over the interior. How lucky they are to live amongst such beauty. While I waited, I flicked through a book full of Loli’s work . I absolutely love his style of painting and it is exactly the kind of art I adore. All his work evokes extreme beauty and vibrant colour. He has an obvious appreciation of both the woman and nature, which he manages to bring together in harmony to create images of Mother Nature.
(Image courtesy Vito Loli)
I meet Loli and it is clear straight away that we are going to get on. He is very kind and wants to know all about me and why I am here in Lima, and then he remembers that it’s me who is meant to be interviewing him! Loli has a phenomenal story to tell and I hang on to his every word.
He begins by telling me how, at five years of age, he would sit at his bedroom window and draw the huge house that faced them across the street. Loli’s talent was obvious even from this young age as his grandfather said, “this guy is going to be the greatest painter in the world.” But unfortunately for Loli, his father was stuck in the old-school mindset that an artist’s life meant a life begging on the street; he had higher hopes for his son, somewhere in the world of science or business. So, to adhere to his father’s wishes, Loli went to study architecture at the University of Ricardo Palma. While there, he never stopped drawing and would fill books and books with comics. At school he would often get thrown out of class because he just couldn’t stop drawing. After leaving university, Loli moved to the United States and set up a construction company, but he knew all along that all he wanted to do was draw.
In California he met his first wife Ginger and it was she who pushed him into turning his painting from a personal infatuation into a career. He was also guided by the fact that the economy was bad at the time and the property market was not doing well, which meant Loli needed to find other work. In a newspaper advertisement, a restaurant was asking for artists to come forward to paint the walls. Having never drawn with anything other than a pencil, Loli was understandably apprehensive, but Ginger practically shoved him out the door. He turned up at the restaurant where there was a scattering of artists sitting painting, hoping to impress the owner. Dressed in his construction clothes and looking a mess, Loli didn’t look the part. The owner asked if he could help him, and Loli said he was there to draw along with the others.
But within minutes Loli produced a pencil sketch of the owner himself (who had a Brazilian background) holding a gun and riding a horse standing on its hind legs. The owner immediately told the other artists to leave and took Loli to the walls and told him want he wanted from the mural paintings. “How much do you want for this job?” the owner asked. Loli did not have a clue; he had no idea about the pricing of art. “20” the owner asked. Loli stared back with a blank expression. “30,” said the owner, but again Loli looked blank. “35 and that’s your lot! And you can have half now and the rest later.” With that, the owner left Loli with a check for $17,500. It was more money than Loli had ever dreamed of. Loli recalls his legs shaking as he left the restaurant to go and buy paintbrushes and paints, something he had never had to do before. Soon he would begin the mammoth task of painting on the expanse of white walls that faced him in the restaurant having never before attended any kind of art school, but in the end, the finished result led to him to being the talk of the town, quite literally.
He gained popularity and more and more people wanted him to paint for them. He has painted for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Prince and other famous movie stars and producers. He tells me that fame and money took over him while in the U.S. and led him into a life of drugs , alcohol and, ultimately, the end of his first marriage. Now, however, after moving back to Peru in 1992, Loli’s lifestyle is quite the opposite. In fact, he shies away from the media. His art is something personal and he finds it very hard expressing in words what pieces mean to him. He told his wife Erika that last year, 2011, he wasn’t going to attend any events and he took a year off.
He has been happily married to Erika for 18 years and both have children from their previous marriages who they love to spend time with. Having settled down, he has found what he wants from life and seems very content. He says he cannot imagine a life without drawing and despite having produced nearly 2,000 pieces of work, he will never get tired of it. I ask him how he manages to find inspiration each day and he points to all the magazines lying around the place.
“Some days it’s hard and I look at the canvas and see nothing,” he said. “So I go through magazines and books and inspiration always comes in the end. I’ve trained myself in such a way that it does.”
Loli and his wife, Erika. (Photo by author)
He is a very humble man with a lot of charisma. He is also hyperactive and it shocks me to find out that each day he gives himself no more than about three hours of sleep, painting from 1 until 7 in the morning.
“I constantly need to be doing something,” he tells me, and it seems that this urge sometimes completely takes over. In this restlessness one night, he went downstairs and found a blank wall in his house, the wall to the right of the entrance door as you’re looking at it to be precise; he threw the furniture out of the way that was in front of it, set up two spotlights behind him and ripped open pots of paint. I can picture him now in a rage; on another planet that only the best artists reach through their soul, working the wall with his hands covered in paint to produce what came to be one of his most famous works: the face of Christ. It is truly a remarkable display and has a twisted magical tale to go with it; whilst painting, the spotlights behind him exploded. Many believers have put this down to the work of the devil and even Christians from the Vatican have been to bless the wall.
“Sometimes I believe and sometimes I don’t,” Loli confesses. Whether it is a belief in Christ or something else such as nature, he stresses how important it is to have faith.
Loli lives for his art, and when he is drawing he finds himself the happiest he can be in another dimension so far from this world, “art is simple and complex at the same time.” There is so much you can get from a piece and it’s different for everyone. He says when someone tells him that they particularly like one of his paintings, he wants to give it to them. “In the past I used to do it, when Erika wasn’t there!” Loli is the artist, Erika cuts the deals. Loli doesn’t like getting involved in the money side of things although he knows he needs to make a living and together they make the perfect pair.
As is the case with many of the arts, such as music and theatre, Loli explains to me that here in Peru there is a small circle of the best artists that have the exposure needed to be successful. Out of this circle, artists don’t really have a chance of living a decent life and some starve to death on a quest to fulfil their soul’s mission: to paint. Loli knows as he is the same; if you have a talent such as drawing like he does, there is nothing in the world that will stop you from fulfilling it. Therefore he and Erika want to give other artists the chance to turn their passion into a real living.
Next week on Thursday June 21, they will launch the exhibition “Miscelanea 2012.” The purpose of this exhibition is precisely to give exposure to some artists not as fortunate as Loli. At the exhibition, Loli’s work will be exhibited along with work from 15 other artists who they have met from attending various exhibitions over the years. Ambassadors, the Minister for Culture, businessmen and other artists will be attending this event. This opening ceremony is a free event open to the public and after that the exhibition will be open for 3 months (details below).
When I asked Loli which pieces he will be displaying, he said he hadn’t decided yet; in true Loli form, he is waiting to see where the wind takes him.
(Image courtesy Vito Loli)
Location: Sala de Exposiciones Qubo, Av. Manuel Olguín 373 – Santiago de Surco – Lima 33.
Opening ceremony: June 21st 8.30pm-12.30am
Free event with music and cocktails but an invitation is required. To get your free invitation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The exhibition will then be open to the general public for 3 months from 9am until 9pm.