Marcelo Pombo – The depth of Marcelo

No. 77 – Buenos Aires, August 2010

Twenty years after the creation of the gallery at the Ricardo Rojas Cultural Center, an unexpected local and international interest in the “Rojas aesthetic” emerges. The Blanton Museum in Austin is preparing the exhibition “Recovering Beauty. The 1990s in Argentina,” for 2011, which will be curated by Ursula DavilaVilla, who recently visited Buenos Aires. A key figure from this period is Marcelo Pombo, who is showing his work at Zavaleta Lab gallery. Laura Batkis interviewed him for La Mano.

Laura Batkis: Tell me the story of your beginnings with Pablo Suárez.

Marcelo Pombo: I think what happened to me must have also happened to Suárez. Especially now that I gave two talks at Di Tella University in the Artists’ Program, and they made my head spin. My head was on fire, for two days I could not sleep because of the exchange that took place there. Some of the people there, like Ana Clara Soler, are my friends. They approached me outside the class handing me their things. They seemed like very “me, me, me, tell me, tell me” invasive, demanding. That’s why I’m going to teach a class in the second half of the year. Then I had like a flash that was a memory from my youth that had been completely hidden. I had been very embarrassed, that’s why I forgot: It was when I met Pablo Suárez. In 1986, I was twenty-six years old, I was making collages on vinyl records where I was gluing pictures of rockers, porn pictures, glitter… I had a lot of trouble showing my work. Then Jorge Gumier Maier, who was a great friend to me from the very beginning, told me: “let’s go together to see Giesso so they can give you a space in the Recoleta Cultural Center”. Giesso was the director, and his management had been a success. At that time, in the room that is now like a comic book story, there was the young space. I showed Giesso my records and he told me I had to go to a clinic for young people run by Keneth Kemble, Pablo Suárez and Luis Wells, and they decided which ones to exhibit in that space. 

It was almost the first time the word “clinic” appeared. 

Yes, we had never heard of a clinic before, of a curator… the word had a tone of asepsis. I come out of the meeting with Gumier and I told him, “wow, that was a failure, they’re sending me to a clinic!”

As if you had to rehabilitate yourself. 

Of course, Gumier calmed me down and told me he was great. I was coming from a lot of rejection of salons, awards. I didn’t know Pablo Suárez. I told Londaibere and we went together. When I got there, the only one there was Pablo Suárez. I showed him my records and a nylon that I had spray-painted, which I had painted doll eyes on. It was like a cape. 

Pablo always talked about that cape with little eyes…

Yes, that was not really a cape, but yes, he always mentioned that piece. Let’s continue. Londaibere kept going… I just went that day, and never came back. Suarez was a darling, he dazzled me completely and he loved my work. He told me “I like what you do, you already have an appointment…” and gave me the phone number. A week later, I called Suárez and told him: “Do you have any clients who want to buy my paintings? Suárez babbled and said: “Yes, I’ll call you”. As I hung up I became aware of the situation, and I was so embarrassed by the blatancy, I was a beast that was also very sharky. Pablo obviously did not call me, and I never saw him again. I did the show in Recoleta, but I didn’t see him. When I had my first show at the Rojas, Gumier calle me and said: “Pablo Suárez called me, he loved your show and wants to talk to you and for you to do a show together with Miguel Harte”. There I saw Suarez again and so a relationship and a deep, immense love began.

That’s where the Harte-Pombo-Suarez trio began? 

Yes, the Rojas’ solo show was in October ’89 and in December of that year the three of us did the show. 

Is that when the strong friendship of the three of you and the trio began?

Yes, the peak is the nineties… Pablo was very eager to be with young people, which is what somehow happens to me now. I wasn’t interested in teaching, but the invitation to these talks changed everything. I accepted to teach in September of this year at Di Tella University. Because you can have an idea for years and when you communicate it to someone else you realize that maybe it wasn’t as wonderful as when it was in your head. 

Working only in the workshop is not as productive then. As if the idea of talking and talking which you did with Harte and Suárez is good.

Yes, but I also believe that there are times for everything. These ten years that I’ve come from concentrating on my work and getting away from the world a little bit were good. Because my twenties and thirties were a lifetime of networking.

Tell me about your beginnings.

I went to the Taller de la Flor since I was eight until I was thirteen, then I started as a teacher’s assistant. It was a workshop focused on crafts rather than art, which was the style at that time, in the early 70’s. 

That has very much to do with your work, which borders on the theme of valuing the artisan. 

Yes, in that workshop we made batik, ceramics, enamel on metal… 

Where did you live? 

I lived until I was eleven in Nuñez, then in front of Virreyes Station until I was seventeen, and finally in Boulogne until I moved out. I attended high school at Nacional San Isidro School, it was very stimulating… I worked in a gallery in Belgrano with a lady who gave me cotton tunics with flared sleeves so that I could paint mushrooms, birds… much like Little Stone, a store from that time. Later I interned in an advertising agency. In 1978 I went to the Pueyrredón (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón – National Fine Arts School Pirilidiano Pueyrredón), I stayed for a month and then I left. 

How did you meet Gumier Maier? 

Through the gay articles he wrote in Cerdos y Peces (Pigs and Fish). I sent him a letter, I wanted to connect with the Gag (Grupo de Acción Gay – Gay Action Group), he was one of the leaders.  I took him some drawings and that’s when I met him. Then a great friendship began with Gumier. The most passionate relationship was with Pablo, but the most endearing, serene, reflexive through the years was with Jorge (Gumier).

Nowadays there is a great enthusiasm for the nineties. How do you see remember that period? 

It was a happy, productive time… for me the important thing about the nineties, placing myself a bit in the Rojas gallery, was like a parenthesis, something special that happened in the history of Argentine art. It happened at other times too, with the Concrete Art group, with the Madis, the Di Tella. The nineties had unique traits. It was a time when nothing happened in young art, there were two or three well-worn paths to follow: like prizes, being recognized by Glusberg or Helft, making 2 by 2 meter paintings, a tasteful conceptualism. Everything was very standardized and closely related to international art. The Rojas was an exception to all this. 

It was an art more focused on the local sphere. 

Yes, when I mentioned that idea at the Fundación Banco Patricios, that I was only interested in what was happening one meter away, the context in which I said it was that I was not looking at what artists were doing in Europe or the United States, but instead at what my friends were doing, who were influencing me, and I them. And that was my square meter. A little bit because it was the time of the great abandonment of culture. Much of the Rojas’ aesthetic was born in 1988, 1989 when the economic crisis came at Alfonsín’s last moment with the devaluation and there was no hope for anything. After the first years of the nineties with the Menemism, culture was somewhat abandoned. There were no scholarships or anything, and it was good at one point because we occupied that space that Gumier gave us, the corridor given to him by Leopoldo Sosa Pujato, a corridor in the Rojas that he made into a gallery. Many of the artists at Rojas didn’t belong to a wealthy social class with which culture is sometimes linked. We were a bit strange, Benito Laren, Omar Schirilo, Harte, Gordín. Economically humble. We weren’t so young either because we had had a hard time positioning ourselves as artists.  

You told me a while ago that you are not a biennial artist.

I don’t renounce or criticize them, it’s just that I didn’t participate because my work doesn’t lend itself to that. Because of the low level of production, because of the time each work takes. Besides, my paintings are neither big nor spectacular. On the other hand, I privilege the issue of sale and subsistence. I see more clearly going to a gallery than to a biennial.  

You are a rather solitary artist, you are not seen much at events. Do you like isolation? 

I don’t like it, I’d like to be different, to be able to go to more openings, to have more of a social life. Anyway, today I am better, more self-educated, before it was more difficult for me. It is a key in my life to have been self-educated, and that takes a long time. 

You are an artist who has the alchemy of transforming gold into clay. 

Yes, I think I have a curse and a gift. The curse is to see immediately all that is horrible in the world. And the gift is the desire to do beautiful things, as if to repair the pain that seeing so much ugliness in the world gives me. 

How did this exhibition Lo profundo del mar (The depth of the sea) at Zavaleta Lab come about? 

I finished the painting Villa miseria en el fondo del mar (Slums at the Bottom of the Sea) and that’s where the title came from. These beings that live among garbage, but there are colors, joy, bubbles. I put the title and realized that the sea has something to do with me, Marcelo. One is less ashamed to think of one than of the others, I believe that there is a villa miseria (slum) at the bottom of each one, and at the bottom of this world. And as always, ornament. As always, in this exhibition I decorate misery.