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María Luque I like the narrative possibilities of scenes full of people

For years, Argentinean illustrator María Luque had an artwork by the 19th Century painter Cándido López hanging above her bed. Her great great grandfather Teodosio had served alongside the artist in The Paraguayan War. When Cándido was injured very badly, Teodosio, who was a doctor, had to amputate his right hand - the one he used to paint with - to save his life.

Learning to use his left hand, Cándido was able to paint many of the sketches he‘d made of the war , artworks he became well-known for. “He painted incredible, huge scenes full of tiny soldiers preparing food on the camp or washing their clothes,” María says. “I first saw them when I was a kid and they got stuck in my mind’s eye.”

Candido was an Argentinian soldier, photographer and painter. He was untrained and so worked in the Naïve style, and he was most known for his depictions of scenes from the war. Tuyuti2

The Paraguayan War ran from 1864 to 1870, a deadly onslaught between Paraguay and the Tripple Alliance or Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Nearly half a million people are believed to have been killed in the conflict.

The scenes she paints herself are also inhabited by people made small by their surroundings. “I like the narrative possibilities of scenes full of people, a lot of things can happen at the same time.”

For her first graphic novel La Mano Del Pintor (The Hand of the Painter) María imagined an extended version of Cándido’s story. In the book the artist asks for her help to finish his paintings and they become friends. He tells her about his experience of war and teaches her how to paint with oils, in return she shows him how to make a fanzine and introduces him to ice cream.

María draws as if she’s a little bit possessed. “I like it to be intuitive, to feel that my hand is drawing by itself, not letting the head think about every movement.” As soon as she starts she already knows whether a drawing is going to work out. She never prepares sketches and goes straight to paper with her pencils or paints.

Fascinated with art history, María spends a lot of her time in museums hosting drawing workshops, watching people and painting other artists’ masterpieces. “I love everything about museums,” she says, “the silence, the cozy seats in the middle of the rooms, listening to guides, watching people taking pictures and of course the art pieces.”

She’s currently on an artist residency in St Petersburg, Russia where the guards of the museums are “the cutest old ladies, they all have adorable hats or scarves and they smile when you pass by,” she says. “I adore them.”

I realized that making replicas of other artists’ paintings was an amazing way to learn how to paint.

In one of her museum-inspired projects María painted a series of small watercolors set in art museums where things were going considerably pear-shaped. She imagined a calamity at a Marina Abramović retrospective and an accident at the opening of a Basquiat show. The detailed paintings are full of hidden stories, like “a woman in shock looking at The origin of the world during a Courbet exhibition, or a museum worker falling from a ladder while trying to hang a Matisse painting.”

Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist, whose work often deals with the limits and the possibilities attached to the human body and mind.

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a New York-based artist whose neo-expressionist paintings laid the foundations for a generation of creatives.

L'Origine du monde was painted in 1866 by French artist Gustave Courbet. The erotic work shows the naked torso and genitals of a woman, and Courbet was one of the pioneers of the provocative painting. We'd love to show you it, but we probably shouldn't. If you're still curious...

Henri Matisse was a French multidisciplinary artist who was mainly renowned for his painting. He played key roles in some of the most significant artistic developments of the 20th Century, most notably Fauvism, the style of "the wild beasts" who placed more importance on colour than realism.

For each one she had to paint minuscule forgeries of the artists’ celebrated works. “It was really funny working on these paintings,” she says. “I realized that making replicas of other artists’ paintings was an amazing way to learn how to paint.”

La última pintura de Tracey.
Diego y Frida en el taller.
Siesta después del desayuno.
Recreo después del splash.

I love to imagine tiny moments, like Manet taking a nap on a sofa after painting Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe.

After this she became occupied with painting famous artists enjoying some down time inside their studios. Tracey Emin lies nude on a rug, while Diego Rivera reads a book. “I love to imagine tiny moments, like Manet taking a nap on a sofa after painting Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe or David Hockney smoking a cigarette surrounded by his pets,” she says.

Tracey Emin is an English artist who works across multiple mediums. Her work is often autobiographical in nature, one such example being her piece ‘My Bed’, which showed simply her own bed which she had been drinking, sleeping, smoking, eating and having sex in for the previous few weeks.

Diego Rivera was the pioneer of Mexican muralism, creating murals across the country and later in the United States. He had a less-than-stable marriage with Frida Kahlo.

Édouard Manet was a French painter who played an important role in the movement from Realism to Impressionism. His 1863 piece Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, which shows a nude woman on a picnic with two men, sparked controversy at the time. It is now on display at the Musée d'Orsay. 1024px-Edouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass - Google Art Project

David Hockney is an English artist widely considered to be one of the most influential the country has ever produced. Although his style is still changing and adapting to new technologies to this day, he is most widely known for his portraits of hedonistic Los Angeles life in the 1960s and 70s.

The detail in María’s works is astounding: in her drawing of an overflowing newsstand, the shelves are packed tight with her recreations of magazine covers. A drawing of a rug shop is layered with sophisticated pattern-clashing.

She has a particular fondness for bookshelves and what they reveal about their owners.

“They are so beautiful to paint,” she says. “On every bookshelf there's a huge array of different colors all standing next to each other.” She considers looking through someone’s personal library more intimate than rifling through their underwear drawer.

María gets her interior inspiration from her second job as a house-sitter. The interiors found their way in another book, her prize-winning, autobiographical graphic novel Casa transparente (Transparent house) which jumps around Argentina — Rosario, where she was born, Bariloche, and Buenos Aires — to Cusco in Peru and Mexico City.

A nomad of sorts, María doesn’t paint from a studio, instead she sets her paints down in different public spaces like coffee shops or libraries. “I started doing this when I realized that I really didn't like spending all day in my house,” she says.

“I used to get distracted really easily. When I'm working in public spaces I'm alone but at the same time I can see other people, listen to their conversations, watch them walk by through the windows.”

Words by Alix-Rose Cowie.

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