DUBLIN – When Pope Francis visits Dublin this week for the World Meeting of Families, he won’t be the only Bergoglio to leave a mark on the Emerald Isle. In an art gallery downtown, the pope’s distant cousin is exhibiting her paintings, many inspired by one of Francis’s favorite themes: bridges.
“Bridges,” said Cristina Bergoglio, artist, author and architect, in an Aug. 21 email to Crux, “in addition to reflecting the geometry that I love to use to strengthen my work, represent ‘communication.’”
Much of Francis’s pontificate has been centered around the motto “build bridges, not walls” in reference not only to immigrants and refugees, but also the promotion of dialogue and encounter as the path to peace. For this reason, it’s interesting when entering the Doorway Gallery in Dublin to see that of the 24 paintings on display, twelve have bridges as their key element.
For the artist, bridges “embody the link between our little self we call our personality and where all of what we call ‘problems’ reside and our wise part, our inner teacher,” she said. “Our wise part is always at peace and out of the drama that we interpret with the physical senses.”
Looking at Bergoglio’s paintings, it’s hard not to make a connection between her cousin’s understanding of bridges and the mighty structures she portrays.
Her cities are “ethereal,” yet disjointed through what she describes as “geometric abstractions,” with each building seemingly isolated. Her metropolis is a conglomerate of gray muted blocks, jutting upward on the canvas. It’s the bridges that bring cohesiveness, line, direction and structure.
Even though the Bergoglio cousin and Francis have only met
once at the Vatican, – where the artist gifted the pope with a painting of Assisi – through very different mediums they spread a similar message of communication and dialogue. In disordered and frenzied structures (or even institutions), both see bridges that provide peace and stability.
Bergoglio describes herself as a Christian and her works don’t lack a spiritual dimension. Thick and sometimes golden lines painted vertically on the canvas direct the viewer’s eye upward, where the sky seems to paint a city above the city.
“All my work, both in painting and in literature, has a message: we are more than what we perceive with the senses,” she said.
“Our spiritual dimension is reflected in the ‘atmospheres’ that I express in my cities. And the buildings, the cars, the streets, represent ‘the transitory nature’ of our experience.”
Something also about Bergoglio’s strong, dynamic stroke seems to reflect her famous cousin. The Bergoglios are people of action, of movement. Cars zipping through the busy streets of Hong Kong or London in the artist’s work are but yellow dots on runny lines, providing a sense of energy and speed.
The artist’s cities don’t stop for anyone, and, like a living organism, they seem to swallow up streets, lights and even people. Yet a romantic touch in Bergoglio’s work is that the shadowy figures crossing these imposing urban jungles are rarely alone.
The Argentinian-born architect depicts bridges in cities from Dublin to Singapore to New York, exuding a global dimension.
“It’s my way of paying homage to architecture,” she said, a career she still pursues. Given her background, it makes sense that she would take buildings as a starting point for her art. Yet it’s more than that, she explained, it’s where she expresses that the “human theater is something transitory.”
Asked about how she feels regarding the coincidence that her art is on display in Dublin at the same time Francis will visit, Bergoglio called it a positive sign.
“I take it as a nod from the universe that says: Cris: you’re on the right track,” she wrote. “I do not need the personal [attention], although I deeply love my uncle. But I am very discreet and understanding of his agenda. Surely, if he was not so busy, he would visit my exhibition. I feel he already does so in his heart.”
According to the curators at the gallery,
about 20 people a day make their way to the exhibit to take a peek at Bergoglio’s artwork and six pieces have already been sold. When the curators first saw her work in London they didn’t make the connection with the pope and were simply captured by her “ethereal and yet commercial” pieces.
“We didn’t realize until later,” said Deirdre Carroll, who works at the gallery, in an interview with Crux. When the exhibit was opened, the Argentinian ambassador to Ireland introduced the award-winning artist’s work (and her famous relative.)
In videos online, Bergoglio can be seen making a face at the reference, something that must happen a lot.
“I don’t speak with Pope Francis, for obvious reasons: he’s very busy and so am I,” she wrote. “What unites us is the courage to live what we love.”
Bergoglio has had to overcome a good deal to get to where she is, including cancer at a very young age. Now she bases her life on the concept of “happiness and peace,” away from the busyness and chaos of daily life portrayed in her artwork.
“The true spiritual path is where you are sitting,” she wrote. “It is completing yourself knowing you are already safe.”