9 inches x 11 inches - no frame
Juan Sisay painted for about fifty years starting before 1950 and continuing until his death in 1989.
Campesino - oil painting by Juan Sisay
“Like most Tz’utuhil Maya, he came from a poor campesino family. In 1947 when Sisay was in his mid-twenties, he encountered a tourist in the plaza painting a picture of the church. When the artist finished his painting, he gave Sisay some of his paints. Santiago Atitlán is one of the places nearly all Guatemala tourists want to visit. By waiting for tourists as they disembarked from the boats at the docks, Sisay had a ready market for his paintings. Entirely self-taught, Juan Sisay initially worked in tempera on paper before switching to oil on cavas.
Juan Sisay quickly gained fame within Guatemala for painting the traditions of Santiago Atitlán. He had his first exhibition in 1957. In 1960 General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, then president of Guatemala, bestowed on him the Order of the Quetzal, the highest civilian honor in Guatemala. Sisay’s sense of composition was simple and direct, a fact that made his style of painting appealing to the people who bought his paintings—people who also appreciated modern art.
During his trip to the United States, Sisay exhibited his paintings in San Diego. While there, he took classes in painting and drawing. His style grew more sophisticated, yet never lost its charming quirkiness. It is likely that during this trip he was encouraged to paint specific individuals rather than the generic figures that had peopled his paintings up to then. Recognizable likenesses of people who lived in Santiago began to appear in his paintings. Two of Sisay’s sons who would become painters amplified this aspect of their father’s paintings. They became notable for painting larger-than-life-size portraits of the people of Santiago Atitlán.
This began a five-year relationship where Manuel painted for Juan Sisay. Sisay would give Manuel themes, oversee the work, and sign the painting. Sisay did all the marketing. Manuel Reanda and Miguel Chavez—both better draftsmen than Juan Sisay—went on to become two of the town’s best painters, but they lacked Sisay’s unique touch. Miguel would eventually marry one of Sisay’s daughters and would work with Sisay until Sisay’s death. Manuel Reanda worked for Sisay for about five years before setting out on his own.
In 1969 with the help of Miguel Angel Asturias, who was at that time ambassador to France, Juan Sisay sent 42 of these jointly created works to be exhibited at the Latin American House in Paris.1 These paintings then traveled to Cannes, where, among painters from fifty-four countries, he won first prize. Manuel Reanda claims that all these paintings sold except one—the only one that Sisay himself painted.
For most of Guatemala, the time of violence between the army and the guerillas, lasted from 1980 to 1985. In April 1989, Juan Sisay, at that time head of Catholic Action, worked late into night at offices in the church, only a block from his house. When his children left their house in the morning, they found his mutilated body in the street in front of their house. Santiago Atitlán’s most famous resident fell victim to the violence at the age of sixty-eight.”
By Joseph Johnston -ARTE MAYA TZ’UTUHIL - Home (artemaya.org)