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Marcelo Pombo

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Feb 02, 2006
Location: USA
Topic: Interview with Marcelo Pombo
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  What principally attracted me to your work was the amount of time I lingered contemplating and looking. Perhaps, the act of making such delicate works as these and the use of the materials was what appealed to me so much. Could you give more details regarding their elaboration? What are your interests?

Marcelo Pombo:  I believe that part of what I like best in life is painting drop by drop; it makes me happy. I feel that I’m in control, relative control, obviously. I’m not a fool who thinks he has control over everything he does, but more control than I have over everyday life, certainly. And that’s it. I found pleasure in doing this.

Something that was determinant, before I began showing my things in the nineties, was that I began to study to be a special education teacher for the mentally disadvantaged. Initially, it was an art workshop for people with mental challenges and I began to get so close to many of those youngsters that I wanted to become something more than just an art teacher. So, I studied pedagogy in art. I was 27 or 28 and life in Buenas Aires, in those days, was very tough and very frustrating, and, as a way of escape, I discovered this pleasure, well no, it wasn’t an unhealthy pleasure, I don’t like the word, better it was a kind of innocent pleasure, a giving of oneself, doing handicrafts, making something out of something, forgetting all the other stuff and, well, that’s how I came to identify with these boys, with the mentally-challenged. I tried back then, to define what I was as an artist. I can’t be Andy Warhol. I’m this, no? I’m someone who uses artistic activity as a means of therapy and that labor was growing with time. This was a time to assess my work. When I was about to graduate and had to produce a show throughout the length of a year, I couldn’t keep it up. Of course, there are moments when I get fed up or become sick from the synthetic enamels, but, for me, it’s a pleasure to do it and think of attractive things and give something beautiful to the world. I want to think, or try to make others contemplate or take a hard look for a few minutes, or seconds, at something that gives them pleasure and that mitigates a little what it is to live in this world, and I say this in this context of Buenos Aires where, it seems to me, everything is crazy and difficult.

LatinArt:  I like what you said in an early conversation about the kind of materials you use, the enamel paint and its association with bricolage, handicrafts, etc.

Marcelo Pombo:  Right, it’s a seductive material, no? David Pagel and other critics have mentioned that it looks like a surface made from candy, from caramel, from frosting or something like that, no?

It’s a common thing. I search for an encounter with the most imperceptible part of things, and to make it stand out over the most brilliant, the colorful, the sensual. I don’t like people touching my paintings because they get marked, but I do like to awaken the desire to touch them. That would be sensuality.

LatinArt:  People have spoken of your work by often placing emphasis on your sexuality, and have commented on this type of aesthetic, and not only of you, but of other artists with whom you have worked. What do you think about this at this point in your career?

Marcelo Pombo:  At this point, it doesn’t make any sense. Nor did it make sense back then, because, in fact, we didn’t have anything to do with any militant or explicitly provocative pornographic art, unless it so happened that we were like that because we were naïve artists who liked pretty things. It’s an exceptionally retrograde idea of being gay, if given the case. However, it’s like I told you. I always appreciate the attention, it’s flattering, as are the labels and definitions. In reality, I didn’t live back then in any kind of gendered consciousness.

LatinArt:  I would like to ask you about the connection between your current work and what is happening these days in Argentina. I’m interested, in particular, in your relationship with the Rojas Cultural Center, Gumier Maier, the school in the nineties. Perhaps, a certain re-analysis of 90’s art may be perceived, no? It’s become a conversation about political art versus "light" art. How do you see it?

Marcelo Pombo:  I find it difficult to understand; it’s difficult to think in the parameters with which I can see the young artists who work in more political art or with garbage, something akin to conceptualism or bound to a testimonial to show the medium in which you live. I tell you, that it’s difficult for me because when some of us Rojas artists worked, we knew that the vanguard had already ended, and, as such, I don’t know how to describe these procedures. Sometimes, it seems to me like art school stuff, because things have changed. Then, as in the 60’s, the more academic crowd in Latin America drew a Picasso-esque Guernica and all that. There have also been more conceptual things along the lines of Vitela, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, to name a few. Sometimes, it seems to me that these days in art schools, instead of asking you to do a still life or a Picasso-style drawing, what they’re asking for, is that you do things comparable to a Beuys, or a Duchamp. Actually, I’m starting to feel too long in the tooth to judge what the parameters are. Let’s say, it’s difficult, you can start from that or you can start from Beuys or from Duchamp and make something terrific, no? It’s difficult because these things, many, allude to the provocation, to the clash, and that, it seems to me, is a dead-end street, in the sense that it’s something academic, if that’s all your looking for.And, since I was never interested in an Argentine reality, it always seemed horrible to me. Making art always represented a way of escaping all that. I don’t feel any love in seeing the same trash that you see in the street, in an art gallery. There’s something of that, the obsession, an intellectual way of thinking about what art is, and that the answer is always to exhibit something that is in the street, the reality, in the museum, in the gallery, cadavers, people...

You say, alright, - how long will this boredom go on? - thinking about what can be shown. I wouldn’t like my work to be a conservative response. I’d like, like everyone else, to go forward without knowing what’s up ahead.

LatinArt:  How do you view the changes in your work?

Marcelo Pombo:  As I told you before, my work in the nineties was based on arts and crafts, and I believe that spending time in Los Angeles was decisive in my beginning to see painting in such terms, of decorative provincial painting, and begin to fall in love with that, and say, this is me or this is some part of us. I think it goes that way sometimes. I follow the same current; earlier, it was something lesser like handicrafts, now I’m more interested in painting, but also in artisanal and decorative painting, hybrids that mix abstraction and contaminated figuration.

LatinArt:  That question of contamination is interesting but, at the same time, it appears that your work has an interest in referring to itself. It contains its own sensual measure, an object of pleasure...

Marcelo Pombo:  Another thing I like about painting, I don’t know if it’s interesting, but it’s painting as a framed object, a humble object, like when people decorate their homes; those trifling pictures. I like that too. Something portable like that, easy to sell, easy to buy, easy to make, you don’t need patrons, nor a large studio. You could have a small space and make objects.

LatinArt:  What is your general interest with objects?

Marcelo Pombo:  Well, I have no interest in possessing objects. My house is quite austere. It seems to me that I go with what I see and with what I do in pictures. But yes, I think my eyes are my most erogenous zones. I don’t mean sexually speaking, but with respect to the sensuality of the world or the opulence of it, within everybody’s view, within anyone’s reach. Everything, no?

LatinArt:  The relationship between the body, the eye, and this sensation on the skin is interesting.

Marcelo Pombo:  Yes, because it goes beyond objects. It is the object, the cloth bordered with sequins, but also the serpent’s skin, the butterfly’s wing, the world of Sol Lewitt, a printed shirt, digital design, an infinite opulence, no? It is equally an opulence that doesn’t require riches in order to be enjoyed or to be acquired. It’s there.

This poverty theme that attracts some Argentinian artists...well, I don’t know.

LatinArt:  A lack of interest in that?

Marcelo Pombo:  Sure, like only seeing the gray part of life, the unjust part of life, if that’s what it is. Saying, - Look at the poverty! â€" Well, no. What’s important is looking at the positive thing, the assertive thing.

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