The Artist as a Young Man

By Paula Davies

Daily Telegraph, London, March 20th, 1986

To make a living as a painter, without either, teaching or ’going commercial’, sounds improbable, to say the least. It sounds even more unlikely when the artist in question, Ricardo valbuena, is still only 25 and started painting seriously only five years ago. ’I spent 12 hours of my birthday just looking at paintings in New York’, said this Colombian boy from Bogota. It was the Picasso Retrospective that set him off. ’I was not confident that I could be a painter but that was when I decided what I must do’.

Coming from a professional, middle-class family, Ricardo was expected to become a doctor and began his studies at the National University of Colombia when he was 18. The ill wind of strikes and sit-ins blew him towards an art course.

His mother, widowed since Ricardo was two years old, was not pleased. "Then I transferred to architecture, which she didn’t mind too much, but when I gave that up after 18 months she said, ’Oh, my God, why did this have to happen to me?’" Now, although he reckoned, she would not look twice at his paintings if they were done by someone else, she is pleased with his work.

Despite Ricardo’s Damascus-style revelation in New York, he went back to university. "I did another semester but finally I said that’s it and gave up". Living at home, earning money by making architectural models, he painted solidly for a year. "I managed to get some paintings into two exhibitions in Bogota and then in 1982, I decided to come to England".

Charcoal is his favorite medium and every study is started with it. "I finish a lot in charcoal, too; I love it." When asked about his inspiration he talks about images. "It is always figures, some times anthropomorphic, demons or animals but mainly images of people." His recent work has been inspired by lonely trips on the Underground, studying people.

Such an ordinary subject could be pedestrian but his "images" assume a powerful, dynamic aspect which, along with considerable sensitivity, is the hallmark of his work. An old lady in a headscarf, a crumpled, balding gentleman- this paintings are not the stuff for wall decoration. Yet a growing number of people find them fascinating and he has been helped greatly by Charlotte Campbell-Davies, who started selling his work two years ago and still does from her Original Picture Shop in Chealsea.

The Quinton Green Gallery in Cork Street took four of his pictures for a joint exhibition last December, sold two and plans to give him a solo exhibition later this year. "We think he has an amazing talent," said Lindy Quinton Cosh, one of the directors. "He is so young and one cannot know how he will develop, but I think he is going to be a quite exceptional painter,"

Ricardo prefers to regard himself as fortunate: "I think I’ve been incredibly lucky, particularly as a foreigner living in London. I actually manage to paint full time".