Firsts exhibitions and the approach to the chilean art world.
B ravo was given his first exhibition in 1954 at the Salón 13 in Santiago when he was 17. He showed several oil paintings and a number of sanguine drawings.
All of these works demon­strated a strong influence from Picasso, especially the Blue Period pictures of harlequins and poverty-stricken types. The show was a success. All the works were sold "but the buyers," says Bravo, "were friends of my family." It was also at about this time that he was introduced (mainly through reproductions in periodicals) to the work of Salvador Dalí who, along with Picasso, became particularly influential for young chilean painters. Bravo began to do some paintings inspired by the Surrealists yet he never adapted the subject matter or the precise style of Dalí. Surrealism has, nonetheless, remained an important aspect of Bravo's work.
Landscape, 1953. painting of the surrealist period of Bravo.
Bravo's second exhibition also took place at the Salón 13, after his graduation from secondary school. Like the first it received a great deal of positive critical attention and the critics mainly commented on his ability to draw. This has been true of many later shows as well, yet Bravo declares himself to have been interested in only a handful of critics.

"Critics have never affected me much. Once John Canaday called my work 'cheap and vulgar.' I've always thought that the fear artists have of critics is like the fear we all have of spiders. It doesn't mean anything because if we're attacked by a spider all we have to do is step on it. Nonetheless, the idea of criticism does make me nervous. Generally, though, when I finally see the review it doesn't matter. I can contradict it if it's bad—or learn from it. If it's good, it's usually too flattering and doesn't affect me one way or another. The good reviews are usually too boring. Bad ones are more interesting. The only review I've ever saved was a scathing one by a Mexican critic whose insults were actually artistic."

After his second exhibition (1955), Bravo continued to work in Santiago where he was intensely active in other artistic pursuits. He wrote poetry, danced professionally for a time with the Compañía de Ballet de Chile and worked for the Teatro de Ensayo of the Catholic University. He soon realized, however, that these activities were leaving him little or no time for his painting. Seeking a different environment in which to work, he left the capital and went to Concepción, a city on the Pacific coast, several hundred miles south of Santiago. There he met the poet Luis Oyarzún, (also professor of the philosophy of art at two universities in Chile) who was to have a great impact on the further development of his intellectual life and interests.

Portrait of Gabriela Schiavi, 1959 [Detail]. One of the several drawings that gave him fame as artist.
Oyarzún, who was much older than Bravo, had gathered around himself a group of disciples. Bravo describes him as something of a Bohemian and a guru. "There was a group of five of us. We were like his poetic students. He would take us into the countryside, teaching us the names of plants, speaking to us about rocks, birds, animals... all facets of natural life. He was also a philosopher of art. With him we travelled everywhere in Chile. We had no money and travelled by hitch-hiking."
A painting inspired by italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The Four Seasons, 1964 (detail).
In Concepción, where he lived for four years, he began to do his first portraits. Portraiture was to remain his principal occupation for many years both in South America and later, in Europe. "I learned a certain formula for doing portraits that allowed me to do them very quickly. I'd paint two or three per week, with a facility that I have long ago lost. I did them in pastel, oil and other media. But I began to get really bored. And so many people were telling me that I had to leave Chile, to broaden my horizons and see new things." These portraits also provided Bravo his first introduction into Chilean high society and his first economic security. In the early portraits as well as those he did later in Spain, Bravo rarely relied on traditional standing or seated poses for his models. He liked to place his figures in less conventional activities. At times he would paint them out of doors, on a beach or in a garden playing with their children. Along with these portrait commissions came the ability to be able to realize ambitions such as buying a small plane and travelling throughout Chile in it with his friends. “I really lived a frivolous life at that time”, Bravo says.
[Next: Part III: Madrid: At the Gates of Europe]