creation: Frederick Chiriboga 

painter and sculptor

"Pretty often people are shocked by things I do," he says. "Years ago when I was younger, I used to be interested in shock value because shock value is an easy way to get attention … it becomes a game of one-upmanship. Now I think that's a really stupid game."

How he became interested in art: Growing up in South America, Chiriboga was surrounded by people who valued "being able to do things with your hands."

His grandmother was a painter and he recalls being fascinated by watching her work. Some of his sharpest memories are of the times he spent at his grandfather's farm in the Andes, where oxen tilled the land and the wheat was harvested by hand. He spent many hours watching cobblers at work and was captivated as they stretched wet leather over lasts to make shoes.

Why he came to Richmond: Chiriboga moved to Richmond in the early 1970s to attend graduate school for painting at Virginia Commonwealth University. While he was waiting for school to start, he got a job at the Virginia Museum as an assistant to curator Pickney Near. He enjoyed the job so much that he decided to skip grad school.

"I'm glad I didn't go, because I think I would have learned a lot of bad habits there," he says. "I don't think you can teach art. … You can teach some skills, but if you don't have it by the time you're old enough to be in grad school, you never will. … I don't mean to talk badly, but I'm glad I didn't join their club."

Has his South American upbringing influenced his art? "No doubt about it," Chiriboga says. "First of all, the fact that Christianity down there is more of a cultural thing. … You can't help being influenced by it. … Being raised as a Catholic, I was exposed to the most incredible encyclopedia of images you can wish for."

Why his work is so dark: Much of Chiriboga's work carries with it a disturbing undercurrent. "I don't much care for things that are really decorative," he explains. "… I think there is a lot more depth to dark things."

Though he is comfortable visiting the dark places in his mind and thinks it is important creatively to do so, he says it also is important to "be able to have normal human relationships with other people." Once he leaves his studio, he leaves the darkness behind and gets on with his life.

How his work ended up in "Iron Jawed Angels": Chiriboga and his wife own a Broad Street building that was transformed into an early 20th-century storefront for the film. He met the film's production manager who was looking for art to feature in a scene that takes place in an art gallery. Chiriboga's work was exactly what he was looking for — art that was futuristic but that could not be dated to a specific time. The film's gallery scene will feature 34 paintings and three sculptures by Chiriboga. He also was commissioned to create a painting of the Roman Coliseum for another scene.

Why he does both painting and sculpture: He believes that switching back and forth between the two mediums helps him to keep a fresh perspective.

"I love to do sculpture," he says. "It is like an escape from painting. Painting is really something that happens in your mind. … To me, sculpture is something I do when I am playing hooky from painting. It is like recess for me."

— Jessica Ronky Haddad


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