I'm so happy the internet exists. Without it, who knows if i ever would've encountered the wonderful works of Nicolas Uribe, a young painter from Bogota, Colombia. I am not even sure who showed me his work first, but I was very impressed and have frequented his website ever since.
Uribe studied in the illustration department at SVA in NY, and moved back to Colombia afterwards, where he's clearly been painting with the energy of a man possessed. With a touch that reminds me of Vermeer at times, he's a very skilled painter, with a sharp mind behind his conceptions. His work shows the melding of many influences, and many styles of painting, into a cohesive whole uniquely his own.
His website, www.uribearts.com has all these images and more, I urge you to check it out. And when you're just about bowled over by the more complex larger works, have a look at the "100 Portraits" series (an handful of which are reproduced here), 100 portraits af various cultural lions, from painters to poets, writers and musicians-- his homage casts a wide net--and I found it amazing that someone of his young age could really have devoured all that material. No wonder he's an amazing artist.
Nicolas was gracious enough to submit to an interview via email all the way back in December and I owe him a huge apology for not posting this sooner. He answered all my questions, no matter how...questionable, and makes a lot of interesting points. It's always nice to hear from someone wildly in love with painting, who also states that art is "completely useless".
Many Thanks, Nicolas, and I hope all of you enjoy. A few images first, to whet the appetite, precede the interview. All works are oil on canvas or linen, and my apologies to the artist if I am not totally meticulous about that part: detailed info can be had at www.uribearts.com.
"Blue Tuesday" (above)
GO: You are an incredibly competent painter, technically, and have an exceptional, and varied touch with the brush.. Obviously, technical wizardry without any thought is empty fireworks, but as an artist who clearly invested tremendous effort in his craft, and in his medium, do you feel there is a prejudice against skill in certain circles, that one finds in the art world these days?
NU: I can’t innocently hide the fact that there is an important body of work out there that unfortunately suffers from that “empty craft” denomination you describe. It is quite frustrating however that the whole of contemporary realist, naturalist, academic or any other classically based painting is judged harshly, because of these mediocre works. I’ve always been inclined to exclusively look at the best examples of art pertaining to a certain movement as admirable paradigms for that same movement. It would be nothing short of absurd if I were to use the worst of Rembrandt’s pupils as exemplary of Dutch Baroque Painting, while making a concerted effort to avoid looking at Rembrandt. But I’m inclined to believe that the prejudice Painting is being subjected to nowadays goes beyond technical qualities. There has been harsh criticism for the last decade attempting to state that Painting has reached the end of its development. So the question a contemporary painter has to answer is perhaps even broader, which is not only why paint in a certain manner, but why paint at all.
GO: Why did you choose to study in New York? How do you feel that influenced your development as an artist, both your particular course of study, and your school, and also the city in general?
NU: Even though I had never been to NY prior to my studying in SVA, the city has been considered one of the best places in the world for artistic development and formation (or deformation). NY’s history, its cultural richness, together with the vast possibilities to encounter and be influenced by almost every form of art, made it a very easy choice when applying to Art Schools around the US. As far as the effect it had on me and consequently my work, well, it’s perhaps immeasurable. NY is a living, breathing monster that may swallow you whole, but if you can n make it out the other end unscathed, you will find it injected you with enough energy, experiences, and inspiration for a lifetime. As far as the course of study I picked within the Fine Arts Program at SVA, I had a very clear idea in my mind of what I wanted to get from my education, and it was to be classically trained. I decided to go with the Illustration Major, as opposed to Fine Arts, because it was there where I found the rigor I was searching for in terms of a technical context.
GO: How is the art scene in Bogota? Is there any one type of work that seems prevalent, either in terms of the general taste of art institutions etc., there, or in terms of what younger artists there are interested in?
NU: It’s as varied as art scenes one would find in any other city in the world. While visiting galleries you can experience the whole spectrum and see exhibits on Drawings along with Video Installations. It is a small, but prosperous market, where an artist may develop his or her own particular language, and solidify it to a point where one can attempt to reach a broader market more assuredly. Young artists are as exhilarating and creative here as any where else. They are perhaps even more resourceful, since they don’t count with the means other students around the world count with.
GO: You're also a very talented portrait painter, and I noticed that you have a number of portraits in the collections of local officials. Is that still pretty common for officials to do, in Colombia, to commission official portraits?
NU: Yes, but it’s a terribly frustrating job and I have been dissatisfied with it as of late. There are just too many capricious comments regarding changes within the painting that just kill the initial excitement of portraying someone. I’m far more at ease when I paint a portrait for myself, that doesn’t have to answer to anybody else’s whims but my own. The concept of a likeness is also something I’m not really interested in. I would much rather paint a believable human being, that an empty likeness.
GO: Could you tell us a little about the 100 portraits series? I was impressed by the idea that you could be, at a young age, well acquainted enough with the work of so many of these cultural figures to paint these sort of portraits.
NU: Well, I guess it’s just a reflection of my upbringing. Both my parents were always inclined to make efforts in presenting art in all its forms to me and my siblings. My mother being an artist herself also made it a bit easier. Although I’m sure that any young art student who is passionately involved with what he or she does, will find that it’s not painful to open up to wonderful literature and music. The more one reads, the more one listens to great music, the more complete the artist one becomes. The 100 portrait series just became an exercise in understanding and paying homage to those who have impacted my life in some way.
GO: Do literature and music, and the other arts play a big role in your work, or in keeping you inspired? What are some of your favorite books, fiction or non? The last book you read? The last book you loved? Last book you hated?
NU: Oh yes! I find that other art forms, different from painting alone are pivotal to my being excited about wanting to create something… anything! I’m obviously a huge fan of LatinAmerican fiction, Cortazar, Borges, Benedetti, Saramago and it would be impossible not to bring up García Márquez. I’ve also been reading Orhan Pamuk and I find him quite fascinating. My Name is Red is a wonderful book. Loved it. As far as actually finishing a book I hated, I guess it would have to be the DaVinci Code… pure garbage.
GO: Who are some of your favorite artists of all time? Favorite contemporary artists? Painters, non-painters? I'm guessing Antonio Lopez Garcia is one of your favorites?
NU: Oh yes, he obviously is. López kept realist painting alive almost single-handedly during the 60’s and 70’s, when it was all about Abstract Expressionism. The Spanish tradition in painting is incredibly strong. I can only imagine what it is to be a part of that wonderful line of painters. If you think of Velazquez, El Greco, Ribera, Murillo, Goya, Francisco Pradilla, Sorolla, López, Eduardo Naranjo, Tàpies, Manolo Valdés…it’s a beautiful homage to the history of painting the fact that all these fantastic painters have developed their work building upon what their ancestors did.
As far as other schools and other painters… well, the list would be endless, but I’ll attempt to shorten it and I’ll try to make it chronological. On the Italian side, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian, Caravaggio, Bernini, Antonio Mancini… not a huge fan of Italian painting I’m afraid. On the French side, not so much of a Baroque fan, but Delacroix and Gericault make up for it. Daumier, Lautrec, Cormon, Bonnat, Courbet, Laurens, Delaroche, Degas, Manet, Rodin, Carpeaux, Barye and pretty much the whole of 19th century sculpture.
Come to think of it, I’m very much fond of the 19th century. Although I pay attention to those artists that are not in the History books, seeing as to how almost the whole of 19th century was Impressionism for them. That’s why I love historical painting, with obscure but fantastic painters such as Matejko, Malczewski, Olga Boznanzka, Benczur, or Repin and Kramskoi.
As far as contemporary, well I guess the list would be as long as the historical one, but here goes… Freud, Anselm Kiefer, Rauschenberg, Auerbach, Steve Assael (who was my teacher and inspired me to pretty much fall in love with painting), Nerdrum, Ann Gale, Alex Kanevsky, Nicola Hicks, Neo Rauch (one of the coolest names in Art today… absolutely love his work), Ruprecht von Kaufmann, Cecily Brown, Sophie Jodoin, Inka Essenhigh, Jenny Saville, among MANY others.
GO: Could you tell me a bit about the fragmented figures in your work, like "Waterfalls", or "The Painter's Wife", or "The Cardinal's Mistress"? On one level, some of them, like "Rest", or "Pentimenti" seem like explorations of motion, or different, but similar poses or gestures existing simultaneously, but this sort of thing also suggests the passing of time, and also, in many of your paintings, a ghostly quality. What is your intent behind this?
NU: I guess it’s an attempt to portray a version of reality not by making a single representative icon, but to find essence in repetition. The echoing rhythms that are produced by motion, or replication, or even duplication are very sensual elements that broaden the vocabulary of painting if you will. The small difference between shapes that only seem similar, create a sort of respiratory system where the painting breathes. It’s really very attractive. There are also many direct references in terms of manner, to photography and digital post processing. That initiative, coupled with a technical decision to incorporate wax into my paintings, led me to what you describe as ghostly. I find them to be very sexy paintings, where the tonal range is reduced and requires the viewer to make an effort and really observe the subtlety present in each painting.
GO: Do you prefer to paint from life? Would you tell us a bit about your creative process generally? Often there are mechanical distortions, or changes of scale that suggest different photos slapped together, what elements of photography do you intend to incorporate, or choose not to incorporate, into your paintings?
NU: I enjoy painting from life. It’s the way I learned to paint and it’s an exquisitely hard practice that connects you to your subject in a way that only direct observation can. That being said, I have found it immensely practical as well as enjoyable to work from photographs, along with their lens distortions, as well as using the computer to give myself a starting point. That has led me to have a special interest in photography, which nowadays is very present in my painting, so I’m very glad I wasn’t stubborn. I’ll do anything that’s necessary to produce the image I want to produce. Simple as that.
GO: "Cabinet Boogie-Woogie", with the Mondrian reference in the title, finds geometric abstraction in a realist composition, and I feel like your paintings are always very well designed in an abstract sense, are you ever tempted to paint totally abstractly? What do you think of abstract painting as opposed to representational painting?
NU: I try to do it in areas of paintings, but I haven’t really tried to paint a whole abstract picture. I think I would feel a bit naked, unsure of what to do. That’s where I always find solace in representation. It anchors the image and helps me continue the dialogue with the painting. But trust me, every time I see a ballsy Motherwell, or a Kline, I stand in awe. It is so difficult to produce energetic gestures. I actually believe it is harder to find a GOOD abstract painter that a realist one. There are tons of mediocre ones, but really good ones… those are special.
GO: Much of your more recent work contains very graphic elements, and sort of collage like sensibility with different painting styles, and tactile feels involved, but is there also an element of actual collage in these paintings? Do you use computers at all to aid in the visualization of your work?
NU: Yes, but aside from the technical standpoint, I just started feeling more comfortable with my Illustration background. Illustration has always been used as a sort of pejorative word, as if it was the bastard son of FINE Art. A type of work that attempted to become Art but at some point failed in the process and fell into commercial hell. Utter nonsense… I just had to understand that I could put all those things that I enjoy into a melting pot, and produce something that was inevitably my own. So yes, digital photography went into that pot, together with a dose of Photoshop and clumsy stenciling.
GO: How quickly do you work? Are the paintings heavily revised in the process, or do you usually have a very clear initial idea? Do you do much preparatory work?
NU: At times I do sketches and color sketches, but not always. Sometimes I have a clear concept of what I want to do, and other times I just wait and expect to be surprised by what happens during the painting process. They have all worked for me, and I feel comfortable with all of them. I guess it depends on the painting.
GO: What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a series of paintings that will be part of a solo show here in Bogotá in Nov. ’08. They will be mixed media pieces, some of them including objects I’m afraid… I have been tempted by the Combines.
GO: What do you consider an artist's job, and/or responsibilities, to be, in a wider context? How do you see the role of the arts, particularly painting, in society, what can it uniquely offer?
NU: I actually feel very strongly about this, and I’ll be very blunt. I actually believe that even though the Artist may have the possibility to have strong social impact, or project a voice that can be heard, I believe Art is completely useless. It’s only purpose should be to create some sort of exchange between the work of Art and the viewer. It can communicate, reject, invite or simply avoid the viewer. And whether it provokes empathy, apathy, disregard, it does not have any impact on its nature nor quality. Art has never meant to be beautiful, or universal, or solve inequities of an unfair world. Art is made to be experienced, and whether its life is ephemeral or eternal is in the end unimportant.
GO: What should we expect to see from you in the future?
NU: Work, hopefully a lot of work of somebody who is enchanted with painting and has many, many things to learn from it.