Alejandro Xul Solar
[Argentine Painter, 1887-1963]
He was born in San Fernando, Buenos Aires Province, in the bosom of a cosmopolitan family. His father, Emilio Schulz Riga, was born in the Latvian city of Riga, at that time part of Imperial Russia; his mother, Agustina Solari, was from Zoagli, Italy (near Rapallo). A younger sister, Sara, died at the age of two.
He was educated in Buenos Aires, first as a musician, then as an architect (although he never completed his architectural studies). After working as a schoolteacher and holding a series of minor jobs in the municipal bureaucracy, on April 5, 1912 he set out on the ship "England Carrier", supposedly to work his passage to Hong Kong, but he disembarked in London and made his way to Turin. He returned to London to meet up with his mother and aunt, with whom he travelled to Paris, Turin (again), Genoa, and his mother's native Zoagli. Over the following few years, despite the onset of World War I, he would move among these cities, as well as Tours, Marseille, and Florence; towards the end of the war he served at the Argentine consulate in Milan.
Xul Solar's paintings are mainly watercolours, often using striking contrasts and bright colours, typically in relatively small formats. His visual style seems equidistant between Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee on the one hand and Marc Chagall on the other. He also worked in some extremely unorthodox artistic media, such as modifying pianos, including a version with three rows of keys.
During the years of the war, he struck up what was to be a lifelong friendship with Argentine artist Emilio Pettoruti, then a young man living in Italy and associated with the futurists. Also around that time, he began to pay more attention to painting, first with watercolour (which would always remain his main medium as a painter), although he gradually began working in tempera and — very occasionally — oils. He also adopted the pen-name of Xul Solar. His first major exhibition of his art was in 1920 in Milan, together with sculptor Arturo Martini.
During the years that followed he continued his travels, extending his orbit to Munich and Hamburg. In 1924, his work was exhibited in Paris in a show of Latin American artists. He also struck up an acquaintance with British Mage Aleister Crowley and his mistress Leah Hirsig who held high hopes for his discipleship, but later that year he returned to Buenos Aires, where he promptly became associated with the avant garde "Florida group" (a.k.a. "Martín Fierro group"), a circle that also included Jorge Luis Borges, with whom he was to keep an association and close friendship. He began to exhibit frequently in the galleries of Buenos Aires, notably in a 1926 exhibition of modern painters that included Norah Borges (sister of Jorge Luis Borges) and Emilio Pettoruti. Throughout the rest of his life, he would exhibit regularly in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay, but he would not have another major European exhibition until his twilight years: in 1962, a year before his death, he had a major exposition at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. In 1963 he died in his house at El Tigre, 5 years before his biography by Emilio Pettoruti was published.