By dint of frequenting Humberto Poblete-Bustamante, you end up feeling that everything you know, or you think you know, has been uttered by Humberto Poblete- Bustamante. The Anglo-Chilean artist - who in the summer, in his studio in Cattolica (Sicily), becomes Sichilaen - is a psalmist of painting on the days of peace and the Karl Kraus of art on those of war. He utters overwhelming aphorisms. Yet Poblete-Bustamante's works equal if not exceed him in intensity.

His studio in Hackney Central is bathed in an oblique and tepid, tender light, pouring in from the large windows; the rays seem to bear with them the stories of this working-class neighbourhood, the cold shadows of the brickwork, the social geometries, the hubbub from the play park across the road, the sounds of poverty and life.

"For my paintings, I aspire to poverty," is Poblete-Bustamante's opening bid. In the artist's painting, the concept of poverty is a complex mystery; decidedly close to the Franciscan vow, decidedly far-removed from the chic poverty of Arte Povera, and just as far from the concepts of ‘misery' and ‘degradation'. While ‘misery' suggests material and psychological ruin, ‘poverty' denotes an enrichment achieved through the removal of the superfluous.

Super-fluous: for several months, in 2017, Poblete-Bustamante developed a cycle of works in fluorescent acrylics, today partly painted over. The artist realised that the colours used for that series do not exist. The colours of industry, of advertising, do not exist; they are not real. "Today I mean to use only healthy colours, colours that really exist."

The studio is scattered with dozens and dozens of painted canvases, ‘working in greys'. Poblete-Bustamante inherited this practice from the masters; the technique entails painting a symphony of contrasts and tonal levellings through the clash or blend of complementary colours. And so it's the colours of tenderness that dominate his works: the green oxide reflects pearly glimmers; the pink earth reminds us of bouquets of dried heather, the cobalt eternally recreates six in the evening, and the Venetian red is that of the warm fabrics of yesteryear hung out in the sun.

On the canvases, space is missing; we are in the realm of what Poblete-Bustamante defines as the ‘Neoneoconcreto', an ideal development of the Brazilian Neo-Concrete Movement. In Neoneoconcreto, the painting is not an object, but rather it's an existing non-object, the fruit of the verb ‘to paint'. "I don't like space in painting. I find spatial research to be petit bourgeois," the artist states. Spatial research appears to burden the painting with an object-nature which in turn characterises it unequivocally as a product destined for sale: everyone buys objects, but it takes great soul to buy the result of a verb. "What is painting? No, no, no... WHEN. When is painting?" Humberto asks. Poblete- Bustamante's Latin-American roots emerge forcefully, roots that spread as far and wide as the sacred body-painting of the Selk'nam people to the works of his father, Gustavo Poblete, a leading figure of the Neo-Concrete movement.

In Humberto's painting, geometry is the only form admitted to the canvas, together with the implied shapes delivered by his gestural brushstrokes. "My father was a geometrical painter; my house was full of geometries. I feel like a child painting geometries. For me, it's a game." Humberto Poblete-Bustamante's geometries are not forms of abstraction, nor do they have anything to do with minimalism; rather they are the result of expressionist figuration cultivated over the past decades: the geometries are compressed figurations, pictorial syntheses of figurative motifs, the distant prehistoric futures of the figure. "There's no fiction in that painting," Poblete-Bustamante says to me, pointing at a huge red canvas. There is no fiction; there are no objectual references to the real: references to the real are all emotional. "I wonder how I can transfer all my emotions to a painting, not to an image," Humberto underlines, "because painting is emotional substance with spiritual intention." The intention may be spiritual yet it is also physical: here we broach the issue of pictorial transubstantiation.

These days, it is so rare to come across artists for whom painting corresponds to an eternal questioning of the soul and to the spiritual translation of reality; today the soul is a taboo. Hence, let us relish the poverty-stricken indispensability of the painting and ideas of Humberto Poblete-Bustamante.


Sofia Silva