More than an Exorcism

by Jose Hernan Aguilar, Art critic

El Tiempo, Bogota May 10th, 1992

Ricardo Valbuena’s new one man show in Bogota presents a painter that has grown in a surprising way, not so much in terms of a thematic change, since he is still showing some self portraits and tormented figures, but in reference to a brilliant craftsmanship and his approach to a highly meditated historical revision.

For someone who is 32 years old, the closest references could be the Neo-Expressionism of the 80’s, or even the Minimalism of the 70’s, in an extreme case. But for any painter that had been close to Francis Bacon, as was the case with Valbuena, the traumatic expressionism of the Irishman would represent a very difficult handicap to overcome. And as if aiming for total liberation, Valbuena not only abandons his existentialist period, but turns to landscape to reflect both on the impressions of the outside world as well as on the history of Colombian art.

For this reason, Valbuena’s excellent and beautiful landscapes remit to an immense Colombian landscape tradition that goes from the irremediably coined members of the "Sabana School"(Zamora, Borrero, Nunez Borda, etc) to the overrated "modern" landscape artists(Ariza, Barrera, M.C. Cortez). The interesting thing about such references is that Valbuena knows very well that he will be compared, and even might be accused of copying. None the less the risk was taken and Valbuena comes out with great advantage.

And he achieves this because with much intelligence he mixes very different esthetics like the romanticism inherent to the artists mentioned above with the spirituality of oriental philosophies(Hinduism, Zen),throwing them on a stylistic bag that hides Turner, Monet and Corinth amongst others. What is even more surprising is that in each painting and drawing we can already talk of a "Valbuena", either for the impressive yellow tonalities of "Twilight" or "Dance at Dawn", the subtle luminous handling of the charcoal or through the minute details like the beetle that strolls on an orchid (Beetle on an Orchid Flying at Dusk) or the tiny figure of a man that meditates while standing on his head (He Stood on his Head in the Afternoon of the Eclipse).

It is evident also that Valbuena wishes to appear ambiguous both as receptor and recycler of a precise pictorial tradition, meaning, he wants to be and not be Ariza, look like and not look like Barrera, for this reason his paintings in the manner of this painters show plants that fly and confront the spectator head on (Beetle on an Orchid…, Dance at Dawn), like Ariza and Barrera never do, simply because they are only interested on a more or less poetic description of nature.

The orchid and the aloevera on close-up, allows Valbuena to introduce the viewer to a meditative, spiritual field and to free him from a merely representational image. These plants like the candles or the imprecision of other pieces are like the mental circle required for an appropriate emotional detachment.

Circle that is subtly suggested on the self portraits, where apart from the artist’s nakedness and his concentration, the light application of the medium indicates a truly reflective consciousness. None the less, and despite the strong transcendentalism, Valbuena prevents his works being simple camouflaged mandalas.

Through, precisely, the objects in the foreground it’s not difficult to discern a, certain theatricality, conscious and at times playful. Thus Valbuena manages to unite the idealism of Colombian landscape of the 19th century with the search for permanence in the Colombian cultural landscape at the end of the 20th century.