Jorge R. Pombo Biography
He exhibits regularly in galleries and institutions in Spain, Italy, China, France, Germany and the United States. He has also exhibited his work in institutions such as the Wallraf-Richartz Museum (Cologne), the Grande Museo del Duomo (Milano), La Scuola Grande di San Rocco (Venice) and Can Framis (Barcelona).
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted via email.
Your work as an artist has a strong relationship to art of the past, whether Italian Renaissance or more recent twentieth century painters. Can you describe this connection and inspiration?
From my point of view time in art is not important. It’s more a matter of quality. The art that has quality is always current, even if it was made 500 years ago. I, as a painter, try not to limit my reading of past paintings simply to style. If one only looks at the style, the skin of the picture, as it is no longer painted that way (for example from the Renaissance) one can think that that is no longer useful, that it is expired. When I look at a painting from the 1500s I do not see Saints or religious scenes but spots of color, fields of color formulated in a concrete way. For this reason I find a Tintoretto or a Caravaggio useful and current, apart from being figurative painters and painting scenes of saints that, for me, have a secondary weight.
How did your education, background or professional experience influence this interest in art history?
My training as a painter is self-taught; I actually went to the University of Graphic Design Elisava, in Barcelona. My interest in drawing and painting was born at a very young age, I don’t even remember when, but I do remember the fascination with which I looked at the paintings as a child. They seemed magical to me, I thought it was impossible that those portraits could be painted by hand with paste of liquid colors and, in my child’s mind, I was convinced that there were tubes of oil color that, when pressed, came out of them the eyes of the finished portraits, mouths, fingers…
What is the greatest challenge facing contemporary painters and painting today?
It is very difficult to answer that question. It depends on the point of view from which each painter looks at Art. I am a painter more interested in the pictorial language, in the essence, in the guts of the” language ” of painting. But there are many other artists more interested in talking about the current world around them, leaving research into language in the background. I also think that the way how we understand art today (a succession of stages, – cumulative, in which a is a direct consequence of the above) is just one of the possibilities of interpretation and let’s not forget that we interpret so for about 150 years only; Velázquez travelled to Italy, without the tags temporary “Giotto=gothic”, “Rafael=renaissance”… he simply looked at the paintings and thanks to his “pictorial intelligence” he quickly understood which was better and which worse, regardless of the time when they were painted. I am convinced that in the 22nd century, what will be asked of art will be different things from today’s and possibly no longer make sense of this cumulative chronological labeling. For These 150 years we have been asking artists for novelty because we have learned to read art through what one or another painter innovated but we are seeing that many artists start to build the house on the roof and start looking for novelty, instead of looking for the truth, which is what transcends the ages. I suspect that we are beginning to understand that novelty for novelty is not enough. More and more professionals in the art sector are tired of this type of art that enjoys all the visibility and that cares too much for novelty for novelty.
What is the state of contemporary painting in Barcelona, and in Spain? How does Barcelona compare to other European cultural capitals in terms of its support of contemporary art?
Barcelona is not a city relevant to art for one simple reason: it does not have a strong market. If you think about which are the creative centers most have a commercial reality behind that can economically sustain artists and propitiate them to experiment. New York, Hong Kong, Milan, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Paris… that said, it is fair to say that Barcelona is a suitable place for artists of political, conceptual content. For artists who” make objects ” in the historical sense, painters, sculptors, I do not think it is a stimulating scenario. Barcelona, in contemporary art, is poorly connected with the outside, unfortunately.
How has your recent move to Italy affected your work, its rhythm, its influences and other aspects?
After almost five years in New York I decided to change the scene and chose Italy, conscientiously. I wanted to have an experience in this country, to live near many paintings that I love. When I moved to NYC in 2010 I understood how important it is to look slow, physical, personal contact with the cadres. I remember dozens of Met visits to see Pollock’s” autumn Rythm # 30.” And Barnett Newman, Rudolf Stingel… seeing paintings live is like talking to people, it has nothing to do with physical presence and virtual presence. Imagine seeing Caravaggios, Tintorettos, Leonardos, Guercinos, Giottos… live! It’s like studying continuously with the best teachers. I claim the “trip to Italy”.
For your Scuola Grande di San Rocco exhibition in Venice you engaged in a dialogue with Tintoretto and his paintings within a very unique architectural environment that was neither a museum or a gallery. Can you explain the evolution of your work for this exhibition and what challenges you faced?
Exhibiting at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was for me like when a (football/soccer) team of serie C manages to reach the final against the leader of serie A. I could not present myself with shyness or excess of respect, in that case, you lose sure, I had to treat the teacher equal to equal, because my painting was going to be hung next to yours. If the result of my exhibition was up to the place, that must be said by those who went to see it. I do not know if what I do has interest or value, I only work to the limit of my possibilities, I put my five senses in my work; my will and tenacity is the only thing I’m sure of. I didn’t feel pressure at the possibility of making a fool of myself by exhibiting with Tintoretto, such things are not thought of, it is always better to ask for forgiveness than permission, is it not it?
You are a very proactive artist who creates innovative projects and exhibitions that dialogue with spaces and historical moments. Can you describe the basic processes that you engage in to create these shows and find new ways of showing your work?
Actually, it works a lot like falling in love. I do exhibitions in conventional galleries, in “white boxes but also in museums that already have content and that conditions the dialogue of my paintings with what is already in the rooms… I have no preference for one thing or the other, in fact I find it more stimulating to go alternating.
Your paintings and drawings often contain unorthodox materials and effects that give rise to a pictorial unpredictability. Can you explain some of the technical applications and manipulations of paint and other materials in your work with regards to the effects you create on canvas?
Returning to what I explained earlier about experimentation, about language, I used to use only materials that already existed in the year 1600, in the hope that my work will be judged in terms of language. I am interested in painting as an autonomous means of communication, with its own rules, not enslaving it to the changing circumstances of the context around us. If today we are still interested in Turner, Rembrandt or Cimabue it is because of the pictorial content of their languages, not because of their narrative dimension, not because of what their images explain. It is true that the twentieth century has freed painting from the yoke of storytelling and we have learned that a few drops of paint sprinkled on a canvas on the ground are also able to excite us, not in less intensity, but in different ways. I feel as close to the Baroque as I do to the New York school.
The Struggle of Opposites
“The key to understanding my position is the concept of “struggle of opposites”. Figuration against abstraction, narrative image against process of abstract nature, image against words, the excellence of the icons of the history of European painting against a non-message picture… This leads me to use instruments such as white painting with a roller, typical of the wall painters, that is, those who paint without concepts or ideas, emptying the content of the images. This position is my tribute and iconoclasm to painting itself at the same time.”
How would you describe the current state of contemporary art in light of the Corona Virus pandemic? How should or could an artist address the current global crisis from an aesthetic or intellectual position?
I have a feeling that our relationship as humans with the time dimension has accelerated a lot. I think for the first time in history we have the perception that we are creating the future with our current actions. And that creates an enormous sense of anxiety. We used to live more in the present moment but now we have a responsibility that the future is now. We hear that we have ten years left to reconvene our attitude towards the environment and if we do not, then it will be too late. We have twenty shirts in the closet instead of three (as was the case before) and at low prices thanks to the fact that a person is working in subhuman conditions in another country and that, even if we avoid having it in mind, generates guilt and anxiety.
With regard to Corona Virus, in real time we are already trying to label it, to understand it, we analyze it from the point of view of macroeconomics, its effect on art, etc. and we wonder whether we should face it with measures of communist or liberal air when we still have our hands in the mass. But if this moment is going to create a trauma of some kind, you have to wait to assess it. It’s like an abused child we try to predict what his life will be, but in real time, when he is experiencing the abuse. The footprint that Covid – 19 will leave is unpredictable, everyone makes their bets and surely some will succeed, but not for lucidity but for Statistics. I see this period as any crisis: the context degenerates and it is necessary to reformulate it to move forward, if we reformulate it well, the crisis will be worth it, if we let ourselves be dragged by fear, we will choose the worst option in the long term. And this affects the production of art but also our way of consuming and the relationship that humans have with each other, with greater responsibility.
If you cold own one painting which one would it be?
Probably “Chinon” by Gerhard Richter. There is a funny anecdote related to that. When I was around 30 I used to have constantly in mind Richter’s series on October 18th 1977, specially “Funeral” a large scale piece. One night I dreamed that someone offered me that painting for free, I accepted and once on my walls I felt so guilty for being sure that that painting was one of the best ever painted so (always inside of that same dream) I decided to donate it to a museum in order to share the pleasure with other people. Another way to responding your question would be telling you that I do not have paintings on my walls (not mine neither other’s works), I don’t have a collection and it may be (who knows) because my relation with art is based on doing it, the exciting moment of producing a painting and what happens later to that piece is totally secondary to me. Gericault’s “The raft of the Medusa” would also be a great “roommate.”
Please describe the work of artists who have had the most profound influences on you.
We all have a father and a mother, in terms of art language, and we have to “kill” them in order to go forward. In my case probably my dad is Richter and my mom Polke. From the first one I have taken his research in technique, his timeless relationship with painting as a language to become better persons. He has done an extremely intelligent, yet emotional body of work. From Polke, probably his disinhibition, his will to create good paintings avoiding any compromise with style and his determination not to repeating it in order to reaffirm his proposal. But there are so many. Tiziano and Rembrandt for their powerful use of impasto techniques, tridimensional shapes of oil color; Tintoretto and Pollock for their sense of scale and building a picture thinking on the non-rational, physical dimensions of the viewer; Shiraga and Van Gogh for their sense of movement and action; Kapoor and Piero della Francesca for their sensual yet refined spirituality; Viola and Caravaggio for their impressive timelessness… so, so many.
Please tell us about your current or future projects-work.
I should be doing a show at Osper Gallery in Cologne but it has been postponed till spring 2021 due to Covid. I also have a show postponed in gallery in Boston. I am planning to be in a group show in Hong Kong in March but it will all depend on how things will develop concerning the virus. I am also working on my first sculpture (ever) with Berengo Studio in Murano. It is a work in glass. For now this project is on stand-by. In my mind there are other exciting projects I am “marinating” for the future but they are more complex and it will take some time… let’s see if life will let me make them.
You have just published your first book, about your artistic and vital experience in New York (2010-2015). What impression did your American period leave you and how did your job change?
New York is a destination that has little to do with the image of an ideal city that pays just the effort. If you go there and try the American dream, I think that was more successful 40 years ago. If you are going to train as an artist to see quality works of art, like someone who sees them in a museum, then it is definitely a very advisable destination. But it is already too expensive and in my opinion it is a place for solvent creators with a stable market.
Living in a city like New York without money or outside support is very risky. But one way or another, Yes, I would advise all the artists of the world to spend at least a year in New York, just as Goethe made the trip to Italy to train culturally, today we have to continue that trip to Italy, but also to Paris and New York. These are three essential places to train by seeing teachers from the past. NY taught me the idea of scale between the viewer and the painting, the possibilities of the pictorial surface, the fields of color, disconnected from all narrative function. I learned a lot from reading Barnett Newman or Donald Judd, in their own words.