José Balmes/ Un compromiso con la vida.

Daré tu corazón por alimento.
Tanto dolor se agrupa en mi costado,
que por doler me duele hasta el aliento

(Miguel Hernández).

Volver a Chile is the new posthumous exhibition of a selection of 30 pieces by the 1999 National Art Price laureate, José Balmes, which will be held at the El Tranque Cultural Center in Lo Barnechea between June 2nd and July 30th.

Volver a Chile is not only an exhibition, but the permanent residency certificate of an artist that was profoundly influenced by his double excommunication and the two nations that nourished him. José Balmes was certainly as Chilean as he was Spanish, taking down roots in both the two lands that saw him start to paint out of a deep desire to create and later mastering the technique to a develop a rural realism notion. This particular situation also led him to make a dramatic twist in the use of materials, which derives from his passing through informality and that is manifested in a persistent questioning of the piece’s gestures, emphasizing the incorporation of different pigments, supports and daily objects like varnishes, sprays, duck tape, brushes, pieces of wood, sand, soil, newspapers, plastic bags, letters, sacks, working books and gloves.

The construct defines in itself a way of positioning himself as an impenitent and committed artist with the ability to make his palette the best weapon against injustice. According to Francisco González-Vera, the artist certainly accomplished this task: “José Balmes does not belong with those who passively contemplate history; he carries it on his back and has been carrying it ever since he was a child”. His reality crumbled when his father, Damian, left for the Spanish civil war front when Balmes was only 12 years old. After the fact, he crossed the Pyrenees alongside Rose Bru’s family, to later embark on the Winnipeg and reach Chile, the country that educated him. From here, he uttered his very firsts warning cries after seeing that blood was being shed for no reason and his canvases began to be spattered with reds and mournful blacks, like the great parabola that goes from Chile to Spain and vice versa.

This is how Balmes started to create a critical space related to mankind and its problems, highlighting a gestural drama charged with symbolisms, where the objects and the narrative compose an aesthetic that derives from the socio political environment, almost fully complying with Sergio Rojas’ artistic vision. “Art comes from a way of observing our surrounding reality before representing it as a whole world or processing it in the form of an art piece.”

This sense of social responsibility that emphasizes the relevant, makes possible, as can be appreciated in Volver a Chile, a tale from a fractured historical reality that is not limited to the circumstantial and that can be explained by his firm conviction that, as a visual artist, he never stood in the sidelines of arbitrariness, but, on the contrary, he knew how to face them, always keeping his brushes close. Highlighting that, beyond his obvious stance, he always directed his efforts towards all humanity, like a coincidence in his own story with a no less dramatic deed that, in these cases, functions as the trigger that criticizes and witnesses a troubled and rewarding time.

Little by little, Balmes broke ground so that art could be a platform where he combined aesthetic and truth, dedicating a large portion of his work to expose exploitation, misery and pain and their multiple faces, often symbolically represented by silent clamoring hands, torn up flags o an anonymous protagonist forgotten by history and that Balmes rescues by giving him an epic leading role and a heroic rise to power, but with a real and relatable perspective, filled with humanity and far away from the magnificent. This is demonstrated here in Chile, the permanent home of the artist who was born in 1927 in Monstesquiu, Catalonia. He was a student of the Beaux Arts School at the University of Chile between 1943 and 1949. Later, he became a part of the academia and the Dean of the same university (1950-1973). He was also a painting professor at the Paris I University, Panthéon, La Sorbonne, until he returned to Chile in 1986, where he received the 1999 National Art Prize and the 2002 Altazor Prize, along with countless other distinctions he gathered during his remarkable trajectory. For this reason, Volver a Chile presents an opportunity to re-encounter a man whose work has not been diminished in time, but that has rather grown larger while we begin to understand its magnitude and his life’s commitment.



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