Humberto Poblete-Bustamante "Try to forget me"

From 05 November 2009 to 16 January 2010

Po t l a t c h *
Generosity, how generous the artist can be, giving us all of this, a gift that almost embarrasses us with its richness, the largeness of the gesture prompting us to give back to the work of art some of the time, energy and attention that it came from. Humberto Poblete-Bustamante is one truly generous artist, with a large largeness of gesture, who like every artist makes his work for himself, because he has to, he has no choice, but who also loves the act of offering us all this everything, all the abundance of his creation, like an explosive bouquet, a slow-motion eruption of expensive confectionery, some brutal dark champagne, his lavish gifts so present. The fact that Poblete-Bustamante is quite so generous in an era where many artists are marked by meanness, their thin and cold offerings, their scanty gifts, their minimal involvement in this essential act-of-giving, makes him seem outrageously courageous by comparison, shaming their empty-handed parsimony with his bounty. The austerity and frugality of much artistic practice today, a literal meanness of spirit, asks for as little back as it gives, a nod, a glance, a slim smile maybe as you “get” the idea and move on, untouched. But you do not “get” a painting by Poblete-Bustamante, rather it “gets” you, so you stay there with it, in it, you become part of it (not always comfortable) and enjoy the enjoyment of the artist, to live his own life-force as the act of looking matches the making. It is a physical thing of course. The very presence of these presents, these paintings, confronting you with the wild thickness of their matter, the sheer weight and heft of oil paint, yes, even the wonderful smell of linseed, turpentine and pigment which has come to seem like a cliché, the olfactory romance of the atelier, but which can no more be denied, say, than the beauty of the rose. You make yourself flat against the wall to admire them from the side, the jumble of shapes built from the dense scumble of paint, how it projects from the canvas, how it comes round the corners, just into the world, builds and builds upon itself to make a monument, a meaning. It is a battle seen sideways in a certain light. Some of these paintings are almost sculptures in their solidity, a small tondo made from the lid of a tin can, a three-dimensionality beyond flat picture planes. Here is the painting as a physical object, something that can be picked up, put on a wall, propped on the floor, but an object which is also something much more, an atmosphere, a mood, a feeling, a story, which transforms the room, changes the wall, charges us with some dimension beyond mere physicality. There is so much going on here, so very much on offer, that sometimes we cannot immediately understand what is taking place, where we are being taken, what the artist has undertaken. The extreme density and intensity of a painting by Poblete-Bustamante prompts the viewer to give back some of the time that it took to make it, by looking at it from every angle, moving round it as he did and slowly savouring each layer of meaning (or is the word “feeling”?) like every layer of paint. Indeed only when you see the artist’s drawings with their bravura hand, the elegance of their energy, their inherent sense of composition, do you really understand just how carefully constructed and well plotted his seemingly chaotic canvases are. Even if they are not studies for the paintings, these drawings are like skeleton blueprints of the artist’s aesthetics, through which one can follow the trajectory of his talent as that sinuous, simple line blossoms into rich, heavy, abundant form and “fleshed out” almost to the point of bursting. But these drawings and the paintings do not just impress us only with their line, their composition, texture, architecture: however strong their abstract virtues, a formal analysis cannot do justice to their real meaning. Because even if we just love the colour, the paint, the pattern, we are also entering into the stories they tell, the worlds and wonders they conjure for us: a special, strange domain. Poblete-Bustamante makes his own magical reality, which is as sinister as comic, maybe like Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear or Bulgakov: a place of puckish bucolic spirits, rural trickery and mischievous achievement. Here are witches and waggish cats, decadent poets, penniless dandies, decaying banquets, grotesques stepping high from some commedia dell’arte, a cacophonous bawdy, a clotted fiction, an jovial cataclysm or “joyous apocalypse” indeed. Or the black bird of mirth in all its pantomime menace, balls maybe, a crowned head of stars, an empire obviously. It could all go wrong at any moment: the painting, fable, secret tale, it could turn nasty, take the wrong direction, lose itself, and yet it doesn’t, it stays in charge of its own trajectory, its own meaning, in the hands of a master. In the wetness of texture, as if the paint refuses to ever dry, ever get old or actually be finished, in the wobble of a canvas trying to carry its own weight, there is a statement of life in threat of death as if paint were flesh, conjuring creation, existence from the palette. The artist knows when to stop, when to restart. When to dare yet again to add, an impossible clotting of arterial energies, the rewarding richness of maximal density, a shot of orange where least anticipated, a blueness, a stab of flesh, this gesture magique building a geography, a territory all of its own, some sort of kingdom, before God, or after. This daring to be – romantic – all alone, happily, is Poblete-Bustamante’s gift, granting us from his own solitude in the studio an entire universe, a loud and crowded world, thanks to which we can live again our own solitude. This is painting as Potlatch, whereby true richness can only be measured by reciprocity, what is given here.

ADRIAN DANNATT September 2009

*Potlatch was, among various indigenous people, the act, of a sacred nature,of giving or destroying, challenging its recipient to come up with an exact or higher equivalent. It was also the name of a journal (1954-7) which Guy Debord edited, and in which he first lined up his arguments against the society of the spectacle.