A Journey of Art, from Caracas to Millerton

“The price that is put on a piece of art should be in accordance to what the artist has achieved.” This was what Camilo Rojas, distinguished artist and professor, told me before wishing me goodbye alongside his wife, artist Virginia Lavado. Camilo and Virginia are two of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Their lives have been full of goals, changes, and achievements. Many times, they had the chance to give up or settle with what they had already achieved. But even with many bureaucratic, economic and artistic barriers in their way, they have created their own path of success.

On September 10, I was on my way to Millerton, a small town north of Dutchess County, to see the art of Virginia Lavado and Camilo Rojas in the Mid-Hudson Heritage Center in Poughkeepsie. Their work will be exhibited along with 13 other Latino artists to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. For more than a half an hour, all that could be seen were farms, cattle, and the green of the trees. Suddenly I found myself going up a long driveway covered in white stones. After passing a small creek and a tiny house constructed in 1840, I arrived at Camilo and Virginia’s art studio. All around my car, tall trees gave the sensation of being in the middle of a deep forest. After spending several minutes inhaling the fresh air and listening to the songs of the outdoors, I spotted Virginia leaving her house.

She welcomed me and we walked to the studio behind her home. It was different than what I had expected – a structure similar to a store that looked incredibly empty on the inside. This small building looked more like a small home than a studio. In the door of the entrance we met Camilo and from there began the tour.

Virginia explained that it took two years to finish constructing the building. Seventy percent of the materials are recycled, and Camilo told me that the wood floors come from an old store in Delaware. After deciding what they wanted, Camilo created a drawing for his friend and architect, who would carry out their official plans. After two years of labor between friends, contractors and each other, they accomplished their dream that had been imagined for so many years. On each floor we ascend another flight of stairs. It seems that every floor is so wide it could fit some six cars, and would be about twelve feet tall. The majority of the structure is complete, and the first floor will be for carpentry and a printing studio, the second for photography and video, and the third will serve as a library.

To see, to understand

When we arrived at the third floor, I was amazed by all of the bookshelves. Camilo said that there were “books, movies and music from all over the world and there were still boxes that needed to be emptied. The internet has changed everything because now you can access a lot of information at home instead of going to the library. We are in the process of deciding what we are going to get rid of and what we will keep.”

On the second floor, Virginia shows me one of her artistic projects. Two reused books have the words on the pages covered in paint and white paper. On the new paper, there are pictures of dogs with made-up names like Chihuahua Hua Hua. Virginia explains that “they are not real names. In English, you call them ‘tongue-in-cheek.’” That is how much of Virginia and Camilo’s art is: images that move the innermost part of the observer. Camilo and Virginia explained that their art shouldn’t be explained. “If I had to explain it, I would write it,” Camilo says when they ask him what an image means.

Virginia creates graphics for companies but her passion is creating her own drawings, prints and paintings. Camilo is a photographer, video director, moviemaker and professor at Dutchess Community College. They are both from Caracas, Venezuela, and they met at the University of Visual Arts. Their parents were both laborers and lacked a formal education. Even though their parents supported their artistic efforts, they didn’t want them to continue on a professional level. Camilo says that his parents wanted him to be a doctor, lawyer, or a priest. It was interesting for his parents to see his art in the huge rooms of Caracas. But the main concern was money.

It all started by wanting to go to the Czech Republic

After establishing themselves as artists in Caracas, Camilo giving art classes and the couple raising two children, they decided to take a risk on an educational opportunity. The government was giving educational scholarships to artists who wanted to study outside of the country. Virginia and Camilo wanted the government to send them to the Czech Republic, to study and then return to Venezuela. But it didn’t happen like that. As Camilo explains, the Venezuelan government sent them to Hollywood, due to “the bureaucracy.” “That’s where all of the big stars were and we ended up living in Los Angeles, California.” They arrived in the US in 1982 and spent many years living in LA, and then were sent to live in Brooklyn, NY. During Camilo’s final semester, his scholarship was revoked and they had to make a difficult decision. At that time, they were living with three of their children (the third was born in this country) and not a lot of money left from the scholarship. But instead of returning to Venezuela defeated, they decided to fight for their dreams. According to Virginia, their experiences “have not been easy,” but by keeping at it fastidiously, they have accomplished many of their dreams. For example, Camilo has received the prestigious Fulbright Award (a scholarship for completing international studies) and the Chancellor’s Award given by universities in New York.

Camilo was also a professor at Pratt University, and even though he lived in Brooklyn, he also became a professor at Dutchess Community College. In that time, he drove from Brooklyn to Poughkeepsie to teach his classes.

“Everything has happened because of chance,” Virginia says. They didn’t think they would come to the United States, let alone stay for good. Although they have always lived in cities, “This is the first time that we have lived in the country. For us, it’s a beautiful luxury,” Virginia says while smiling, thinking of her good fortune.

But it’s a luxury that they don’t want to keep for themselves. When they finish the studio, they are thinking of opening it up to other artists and members of the community. In addition, they’re thinking of presenting workshops for those who want to learn art in a different way. Camilo explains that his goal is to “light a fire in the heart of his students.” He wants them to be able to create their own art through their observations because as he says, “universality is the product of individuality.”

Even though I love it, I couldn’t put a price on the art of Virginia or Camilo. Because if the price is “in accordance to what the artist has achieved,” with everything this couple has achieved, the art is priceless.

Latin artists in the Hudson River Valley

Until November 2, you can see the art of Virginia Lavado and Camilo Rojas in the Mid-Hudson Heritage Center in Poughkeepsie. Their work will be exhibited along with 13 other Latino artists to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The Peruvian artist and Poughkeepsie resident Nestor Madalengoitía is the curator of an exhibition that will present paintings, prints, photographs and relief art made by artists born in Latin America but now reside in our beautiful Hudson Valley, like José Acosta and José Gomez from Cuba, Alex Baer, Humberto Rodriguez Maya and Penny Dell from Mexico, Regina da Costa Val and Cenira Faria from Brazil, Alejandra Delfin from Peru, Sandra Figueroa from Guatemala, Andreas Fortino and Elisa Pritzker from Argentina, and Julia Santos Solomon from the Dominican Republic.

Mid-Hudson Heritage Center
317 Main Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Tuesday and Wednesday – 12pm to 8pm
Thursday – 12pm to 4pm

For more information, visit the MHHC website at www.midhudsonheritagecenter.ning.com, write to info.heritagecenter@yahoo.com or call 845-485-69111.

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