One of the traits common to all cultures is that in happy times children are looked upon with joy and afforded unconditional love and care. This truth goes without saying, but like all truisms, the reasons behind it are, perhaps not so obvious. Children evoke hope for the future; they are fragile, their innocence is endearing and they represent the mystery of life. But there might be another reason, which is not so often mentioned, for which children are cherished: when they are loved and cared for they show us the best of ourselves. They are filled with the marvels of discovery. They are playful, spontaneous, inventive, uninhibited, energetic, unprejudiced, generous, affectionate, curious, and enthusiastic.
In the spirit of childlike amusement, a somewhat comical thesis can be proposed, based on simple evidence from nature. In evolutionary terms, the more sophisticated the species, the longer its specimens take to develop; homo sapiens need twenty years more or less. If the logic of this phenomenon is carried out to its extreme conclusion, it can be surmised that members of the ideally evolved species would never stop maturing. If this thesis is correct, the most sophisticated people are those who remain childlike. This could be a perfect pretext for making art about children for adults.
Graciela Rodo Boulanger would not reduce the richness of her life’s work to a simple thesis that can be stated in one paragraph. In any case, one can say that she paints images of children in a childlike way. Her painted children do the things that all children do. They play with animals, ride bicycles, climb trees, play music, games, and they dream.
Rodo Boulanger paints children with mastery. Her sense of color is lyrical, ranging from shimmering opalescence to bold saturated primaries. She uses line with a dancer’s grace. The geometry of her compositions are rhythmic, interlacing, and both rigorous and spontaneous. She has studied with masters is order to master the techniques of her medium without losing a sense of play.
Her works are indeed masterfully crafted, and craft is an essential element in any artist’s ability to convey a message. This brings us a little closer to explaining what she has accomplished as an artist. Her work expresses a playful, spontaneous, inventive, uninhibited, unprejudiced, generous, affectionate, curious, enthusiastic youthfulness, which viewers of her work can recognize, share, and aspire to.
Graciela was born in 1935, in La Paz, Bolivia. Her mother was a concert pianist and her father, a businessman and art connoisseur; both encouraging her innate love for music and the visual arts. She studied music with her mother and drawing with the Lithuanian painter, Rimsa. She gave her first piano recital at age fifteen. The following year she studied music and visual arts at the National Conservatory of Music and the Academy of Art in Santiago, Chile. She then went to Vienna for one year to study at the Conservatory of Music and the Kunstakademie. The first exhibitions of her paintings took place at the Strohkoffer Gallery in Vienna and the Kunsthaus in Salzburg in 1953.
The next four years she spent in La Paz painting and performing music independently, carrying her love of the arts into early adulthood. During these years, she met Claude Boulanger, the young French diplomat she would later marry.
At 22, attracted by the burgeoning artistic environment at the time in Buenos Aires, she moved there to pursue both of her passions professionally. It soon became apparent to her that it is not possible to study music for six to eight hours per day and then paint for as many hours with as much joy and concentration. At that point she decided to turn all of her energy to painting.
Her years in Buenos Aires were indeed crucial for it was there that she encountered one of the most important events of her life. She saw her first etching by Johnny Friedlander, considered one of the finest engravers in the world. As a result, she went to Paris where she began working with Friedlander in his studio. In 1962 she married Claude Boulanger in Paris. The young couple went to Lebanon in 1963 where Claude was stationed as an attache to the French embassy. They returned to Paris in 1964, and Graciela still resides there today.
Her first daughter Karine was born in 1963, followed by Sandra in 1966. Also in 1966, the years Graciela spent working with Friedlander came to fruition as she published her first editions of engravings and had her first exhibitions in the United States. Her career has skyrocketed ever since.
Today, Graciela Rodo Boulanger has had more than 150 exhibitions of her works on all five continents. In 1979, she was designated as the official artist for the International Year of the Child poster. Two of her tapestries were presented in the public hall of the U.N. General Assembly. The Museum of Modern Art of Latin America in Washington, D.C. gave a retrospective show in 1983. The Metropolitan Opera of New York commissioned her to do a poster for their production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, in 1986. A show of her paintings with opera and ballet themes were also displayed at Lincoln Center simultaneously. In 1993, the World Federation of the United Nations chose to use one of her oil paintings to illustrate a stamp issue and an accompanying limited edition print with the theme of endangered species.
She still returns often to La Paz, where the origins of her inspiration are found. At an altitude of 11,800 feet, La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world. The light there is sparkling clear and bright. The colors of the landscape are neutral toward ochre and tan. In contrast, the people wear intensely colored clothes that reflect the Inca influence on Bolivian culture. Such a grandiose natural environment animated by the colors of a unique cultural tradition provides a spectacular base for artistic invention.


Philip Heying
Paris, September 1996