Alejandro Obregón was born in 1920 in Barcelona, Spain, where his family lived for some time. Most of his childhood was spent in Barranquilla, Colombia and Liverpool, England. In 1939 he studied fine arts in Boston for a year and then returned to Barcelona to serve as Vice Consul of Colombia for four years. In 1948 Obregón was named Director of the School of Fine Arts in Santafé de Bogotá. His career as director lasted barely a year, but the seeds of change that he planted took rapid root. He then went to Alba, near Avignon in France, where he remained until 1955. A painting from that year, Still Life in Yellow, shows that his personal style was then fully developed, and exhibits the formal elements that came to characterize his work.
Obregón is above all a painter. His compositions are usually divided horizontally into two areas of different pictorial value or size, but of equal visual intensity. Other elements take their place against them. Color plays a fundamental role in integrating the structures of his ingenious design, first in geometric forms and then in controlled expressionism.
The Colombian historian Eugenio Barney refers to "periods" in Obregón's work, characterized by predominant colors. Certainly his painting shows the influence of Picasso, as well as that of the Englishman Graham Sutherland, although these are only points of departure. Thanks to his enormous creativity, which deeply impressed those who knew him, Obregón achieved a pictographic system of his own invention, marked by his personal formal and chromatic symbols. In the 1960s this system achieved a level of excellence difficult to surpass. It was recognized at the Ninth São Paulo Biennial, where Obregón represented Colombia in a pavilion of his own and was awarded the Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho Grand Prize for Latin America.
Over a period of four decades, Obregón incorporated into his painting a repertory of themes that transcend literary reference and are unmistakably Colombian in character. From his still lifes of the 1950s to his landscapes of the sky, the sea and the buildings of Cartagena de Indias, where he worked during his last years, Obregón's work is multifaceted. He conveys his feeling for the geography and wildlife of Colombia, his love of family and his passion for women. His subjects remind the viewer of loyalty, friendship and memory and ultimately of the wonder of life, however insignificant it may seem in terms of the cosmos.
Obregón also refers to contemporary events in Colombia, caught, like other Latin American countries, in the cross fires of the Cold War. His work Dead Student (also known as The Wake), an allusion to the excesses of the dictatorship, won him the Guggenheim Prize for Colombia, awarded in New York in 1956. That same year his Cattle Drowning in the Magdalena River was awarded first prize at the Gulf Caribbean Competition in Houston, Texas an exhibition that also included works by Enrique Grau, Edgar Negret and Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar.
Obregón is the Colombian artist perhaps most closely identified with the spirit of artistic renewal manifested in the 1950s in his country. It was during this period that Obregón, Enrique Grau, Fernando Botero, Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar and Édgar Negret, came to be known as the "Big Five" of Colombian art. At different times throughout his career, Obregón also produced works related to political violence in Colombia since 1948. Estudiante Muerto, awarded the national prize for Colombia at the 1956 Guggenheim International Exhibition, belongs to a group of paintings commemorating students and popular leaders who lost their lives during this period of social unrest. Also in 1956, Obregón's, Cattle Drowning in the Magdalena River, was awarded first prize at the Gulf Caribbean Competition in Houston, Texas an exhibition that also included works by the "Big Five".
Colour has always played an essential role in his work, both on an affective level and as a unifying element of the composition. The elegiac and dramatic tone of this painting, in which an altar-like table serves as a stage setting for death, is heightened by the dominance of the red colour in the geometrically articulated composition.
Obregón died on April 11, 1992 due to a brain tumor.