The Weird, Wondrous World of Eduardo Martínez Bonati

Impaled brains, popping eyes, choking chickens and clouds of fart gas: welcome to the mind of Chilean artist Eduardo Martínez Bonati. His vision of the depravity of nature is captured in paintings that are equally repulsive and compelling, and that plunge you into a psychedelic comic nightmare.

Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes
Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes

The works of Martínez Bonati, on display in Bellas Artes Museum until May 22, celebrate the grotesque and the absurd. They present the wretched ugliness of the human form through lumpy, deformed bodies and hideous, demonic grins. Animals are equally hellish: slavering wolves leer sexually and mutant birds with beaks like scimitars are victimized by unseen assailants. Themes of debauchery, suffering, ecstasy and conflict instill a deep sense of unease and even fear at this twisted representation of our world.

Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes
Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes

The central piece of the artist's exhibition, Vuelvo a Casa ("I'm Coming Back Home"), is the grand painting “Ópera bufa,” a carnival of carnage and mayhem whose vivid depictions of barbaric orgy and wicked revelry utterly overpower the viewer. Bizarre, warped figures leap out at every point. It is a work that is impossible to absorb in one go, the sheer intensity of the piece lending itself to the discovery of new monstrosities with each perusal.

There is a continuous sexual element throughout Bonati's work, yet there is little love or romance in this world. Twisted human forms contort in gruesome copulation; in one painting the female's vagina reaches for the male member like a claw. While the bodies alone are repellent, it is the facial images that truly capture the magnificent horror of Bonati's dystopia -- deranged and demented expressions that could just as easily be contorted in agony as aroused in passion.

“Homenaje a Juez Garzón” is a painting made up of a series of frames that depict the judge's mask slipping to reveal his true vulgarity, while his gnarled, squirming nose grows steadily until finally it is severed with a pair of rusted scissors. The judge's lies and dishonesty are plain for all to see as he reaches his bloody comeuppance.

 Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes
Photo courtesy of Museo Bellas Artes

There is, thankfully, some respite from the brutal majesty that flows from the hand of Matínez Bonati. A series of doodles done absentmindedly while on the telephone are stuck together in montages that, while unmistakably his work, are of a more cartoonish aspect. The artist himself recommends this as a way to express oneself creatively, emphasizing that it must be done without thought in order to produce a true representation of the mind.

Vuelvo a Casa sees Martínez Bonati, a former student of La Escuela de Bellas Artes in Santiago, returning to his alma mater as he enters his eightieth year. His vision of humanity and society as a realm of extravagant gratification and chaotic turmoil seethes with passion while managing to be both wonderful and terrifying. It is the work of a supremely talented master of the brush.

Eduardo Martínez Bonati: Vuelvo a Casa
Closes May 22, 2011
Museo Nacionál de Bellas Artes
Casilla 3209, Santiago
Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm (closed Monday)
Metro: Bellas Artes

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