Ernesto Bonilla de Valle. Painter, Poet, Writer : Drawing Inspiration From the Unknown

Ernesto Bonilla de Valle envisions a cosmic connection between the Nazcas--a pre-Incan civilization of his native Peru--and the Space Age journeys of astronauts in the past two decades.

“In Peru, near Lima, there are mysterious stone designs created by the Nazcas where it is said that interspace communication once occurred,” explained the 86-year-old painter and author. “There is a transcendentalism to the area. That idea signifies much to me.”

The idea has also inspired Bonilla’s work in the last decade. Using pastels in a method resembling oils, his paintings depict surreal space-scapes in primal colors that explode from the canvas. His works are part of a Fullerton Public Library exhibit featuring Latino artists taking place in September and October.

“As a boy, I learned the colors from looking to the sky,” said Bonilla, who lives in Fullerton with his wife of 56 years and their daughter. “My mother influenced me artistically with the beautiful colors she used in her embroidery designs.”


Bonilla also talks of the spectacular interplanetary colors astronauts have described in their accounts. When he is not writing poems or painting, Bonilla said, he reads about space travel and the mysteries of South America.

“I was very inspired by the beautiful valley of Cuzco,” he said, giving a detailed description of his birthplace, which has been the subject of many of his poems and two books on folklore. Bonilla’s brand of storytelling is in the genre of magical realism--a mix of historical facts infused with the fantastic qualities of a legend.

“When I was 5 years old, my professor saw in me an inclination toward art. It was then that I became an artist,” Bonilla said. “At 8, I was asked to write a poem. I was one of the finalists. Since then, I wasn’t just an artist but an orator too.

“In 1935, I had my first exhibit in Lima. I was a great admirer of Rembrandt, of Greco. I believed that reproducing the exact picture made one a great painter. But photography changed that.”


Bonilla studied economics in college, was a Peruvian transportation official and worked briefly as a journalist. But he believes that founding a housing cooperative for the poor in Peru has been his most important contribution and one that kept him in tune with the sometimes-volatile circumstances in his country.

“In 1970, I left Peru when the revolutionary government came in. I like order but not the military structure. Here (in the United States), I am happy,” he said. “It is the only place where there is peace and freedom. Here, there continues to breathe liberty.

“I was, of course, also a revolutionary in my art and especially in my poetry. With modern poetry, you can extend and express yourself how you want.

“The painter, the artist should rely on the imagination more than the reality. I turned to dreaming, to the astronauts and the planets--the colors that are up there. My style changed when man went to the moon.


“There is much beauty to be made from the unknown.”