Artist to Watch: Fernando Achucarro

Meet Tupa, Ao Ao and Monai: A Multi-Talented Artist Reimagines the Mythic Creatures of Paraguay

When Fernando Achucarro was six and attending school in Asuncion, Paraguay, he and his fellow students were given a book describing the fabulistic mythological creatures responsible for his country’s creation stories.

Paraguay’s indigenous people are the Guaranis. Their centuries-old myths, which many still believe, revolve around the god Tupa, who created the earth, the people and all the animals. He also conceived some nasty tricksters. When Tupa’s granddaughter Karana was captured by the evil spirit Tau, she gave birth to the seven legendary monsters that still inhabit Paraguay.

All of the monsters are males. The “Ao Ao,” god of the hills and mountains, looks like a sheep but is actually a cannibal who eats anyone he finds. “Monai” is god of the open fields and is associated with hypnosis. The alligator-dog “Teju Jagua” has seven heads, a sign of condemnation because the heads never agree on anything. The god of bodies of water and aquatic animals is “Mboi Tui,” said to help those who wish to induce fear.

“The stories were so great,” Achucarro recalled in a recent interview, “but the drawings were so stupid I decided I had to do something about it. So, I cut them all out and just kept the text. I really got in trouble for that.”

Thirty years later, in an exhibit at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, Achucarro showed his own graphite and chalk drawings depicting Paraguayan myth-monsters. The results are unforgettable — a single collector bought all seven of them — and Achucarro’s surreal interpretations clearly compensate for his early childhood disappointment.

Achucarro is a self-taught artist and musician. He came to the United States in 2002, moved back to Paraguay in 2004 with his former wife, who was a tango dancer, and then came to Kansas City in 2008. His sister works in the U.S. embassy in Paraguay, but his parents and brother have lived in Grandview since 2006, and Achucarro’s three daughters all live in Kansas City.

“Paraguay is very beautiful but dangerous,” Achucarro says. “We were always insecure there. While growing up we were robbed seven times. When I was nine, people were killed in front of our house. But we’re more scared of the police in my country than the criminals.

“There are only two art schools in Paraguay, so I taught myself to play drums when I was a kid and also started drawing then. When I was 17, I was robbed outside my house and all my drums and equipment were taken. I had no money to replace my instruments. Then I realized I had drawn all my life, and I told myself I’m an artist. The only thing nobody can touch is my art, and the only way an artist can fail is to stop making art.”

After moving to Kansas City, Achucarro says, “I was so lost. So I googled “flamenco” and saw Beau Bledsoe’s name. I contacted him. He’s such a great musician!”

Achucarro, whose main instrument is the Peruvian box (a percussive instrument), now plays regularly with Bledsoe and his flamenco ensemble at La Bodega in Leawood and other venues.

His distinctive drawings found a venue with the Slap and Tickle Gallery until it closed, and since then he has had two exhibits at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.

Besides his mythological works, Achucarro showed a series based on surgeries he had on his jaw. They are dreamlike, funny and horrific simultaneously, as he depicts himself attached to a machine that makes him smile. “They’re really a symbol of my life,” he says, “as I try to smile through it all.”

His unique drawing style is the result of using his fingers to smear his materials on the paper — “I like to feel what I’m doing” — and then enhancing the surfaces with objects such as nails applied to scar the surface.

“I always try not to be bored with myself,” Achucarro says, “so when a friend who is a graffiti artist called me in 2014 and asked me to collaborate with him, I said yes. He brought all his paints to my house, but he cancelled our meetings repeatedly. Finally, I got mad and just started painting on the canvas he had brought. Now I thank him, because I realized it took me 34 years to know that I can paint.”

Achucarro is currently working on a commissioned series of works intended to interpret the poems of famed Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. “They are all about loneliness,” he says.

Achucarro is no longer lonely. “Kansas City is my country now,” Achucarro says. “Kansas City is where my heart lives.”

As he writes on his Facebook page, “I was born in Asuncion Paraguay in 1978 then I’m here. THE END”

About The Author: Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch

Elisabeth Kirsch is an art historian, curator and writer who has curated over 100 exhibitions of contemporary art, American Indian art and photography, locally and across the country. She writes frequently for national and local arts publications.

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