What are your first memories as an artist, back in your childhood?
If I go back in time, the first thing I remember is drawing on the school's books [laughs]; I didn't study much, I rather draw and paint on the notebooks. I had a friend that liked painting and we used to hang together and work on our art.
Also, one of the first memories I have creating handcrafts is when we use to go with my family to La Palma on holidays, as a child, making key rings from the pine tree's bark.
When I was in my last year of school, I took ceramic classes for 1 year with Cesar Sermeño, and learned a lot about this technique. I used to go at 4 pm, after school, to "Bellas Artes" (a public arts school in El Salvador). Cesar told me I had talent and encouraged me to pursue a career in art.
Did you ever doubt about what you wanted to be, or you always had it clear that art was your thing?
No, there's always confusion, there are moments when you don't really know if that's what you want because I was really young, 15 years old when I finished school, so it was very difficult to have complete clarity. I knew that I liked art, and in my spare time I would paint and draw, but my parents wanted a university degree for me. So, I went to college for a while and, during that time, had a close encounter with God in a spiritual retreat, and thought that the best way to serve Him was to become a priest.
A priest friend of mine, helped me find a spot on a seminary in La Ceja, Colombia. But I got sick and returned to San Salvador.
And what did your parents think of you becoming a priest?
They were really happy. They supported me completely. Normally, the archbishop pays for a person to go to a seminary and study to be a priest, but in my case, my parents helped me with the costs.
So, you get back to El Salvador, and what happens next?
Another friend of mine helped me find a spot on a seminary in Toulouse, France. I was there for three years and completed a Bachelor in Philosophy.
During my years in France, in my spare time, I would draw, because I felt something culturally missing in me. Everybody asked me about El Salvador, about its music, arts, handcrafts; and I felt there was something missing there. So, with the little spare money I had, I used to buy materials and paint. When I had enough paintings, I did an exhibition with a Mayan art theme; it was a great success and I sold everything.
At that point, I started thinking that what I really wanted to do was becoming an artist and not a priest like I thought. During that time, I was visiting art galleries and museums in Europe more and more and soaking all that beautiful art in.
So, I took a plane, went back to El Salvador and told my parents that I wanted to become an artist full-time. My dad wanted me to give him one last chance and try studying English and Architecture in the USA, and so I did; I left El Salvador and went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
I didn’t like the US society at all; the discrimination, materialism, the values that I saw were against what I was looking for and what I believed.
As an artist, the education was too stiff, it didn’t inspire me to be creative, and what I wanted was to create an image for my country, something inspired in my ancestors; so I didn’t feel good in the US.
So, you were in the US during the 60’s, did you get into the hippy's movement then?
Not that much, I got more into it when I went back to El Salvador. I did go to a few concerts with friends, I had a Salvadorian friend that liked the hippie movement and so we used to go together to watch gigs and listen to music.
But it was when I went back to El Salvador that we started getting together with friends to play music; we had a strong friendship and that was the engine of our music, everything was based in our fraternity, in the love between us, and so the music projected this brotherhood.
You used to play in a band called “La Banda del Sol” (The Band of the Sun), when did this start, was it during that time that you were talking about before?
It was in 1971, I’d just got back from the US. We started playing Christmas music, but then we realised we had a few guys in the band that were composers and so we decided to arrange some songs and start playing our own music.
We focused mainly on the music written by Carlos Aragon, aka as “Tamba”, we all wrote music but he was the best, he used to study in a high school specialised in music, his instrument was the guitar but he also played keyboards.
After gigging with “La Banda del Sol”, you go to La Palma, right?
During the time with La Banda del Sol we had this idea of leaving the country, studying music together and make it our life, but not everyone could do it. The keyboard player, Manuel Martinez, left; the bass player, Toto Archer, did too; Tamba stayed.
In El Salvador, this were the years when the civil war was starting, so there was a lot political instability. The arts high school, where Tamba was studying, was heavily influenced by all the political environment, and so he ended up joining the guerrillas.
It was then when I decided to go to La Palma. I had an exhibition with Julia Diaz, where we also played with La Banda del Sol, and it was a big success; it was held in “El Bigote Rosado” (The Pink Mustache). With the money I earned from it I left to La Palma.
I rented a house in a suburb called “La Cruz” (The Cross), paying 10 colones per month (something like US$2 per month), and started painting daily.
I used to buy milk daily in a shop near my house, and during my walk I had to pass by this house and always saw a girl with beautiful eyes, and a pure heart, her name is Estela and she was to become my wife.
When you go to La Palma and make that bold decision, were you ever afraid of how were you going to make a living?
No, I was never preoccupied. After we got married with Estela, I started painting on the surface of a seed called “Copinol”, making miniature paintings on them; we used to sell them and that’s how we made our living.
When my dad saw I got married and was serious about my art and had a gift, he supported me letting us move into the holiday house he owned there. He was also happy that I was teaching the local people to create these handicrafts because he had always had the idea of helping the town of La Palma in some way (Fernando’s father, Baltasar, started going to La Palma many years before Fernando was even born, and so he had a special affection for the place, and a holiday house they used to go to yearly).
When we move to my father’s house, everything starts growing rapidly. More people from the town start coming to see what’s going on and want to learn to paint and create these handicrafts.
And did you used to sell the handicrafts to tourists or who was coming to La Palma and why?
Rumours got spread in San Salvador that there was a group of “hippies” making art in La Palma, and so people started coming out of curiosity. When more and more people realised it was for real, the crowds got bigger and bigger.
We also used to sell the handicrafts to a shop in San Salvador named “Xaya”, in a suburb called Miramonte, owned by Alicia Sol de Morales. She sold her own handicrafts there and let us have a little spot to exhibit ours.
It was great having this first conversation with my dad, it's amazing how some of the things he was telling me I didn't even know about, after all this years of chatting with him :) I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. Please feel free to leave your comments and we'll see you next time with a bit more of Fernando's fantastic life...