METAPHYSICAL REPRESENTATIONAL PAINTER

BY  DANIEL JOHNSON

JULY | 2022

Humberto Aquino is a true, historical figure in the art community with an impressive background dating back to the 60s, who still retains his relevance today. Unlike many artists who usually claim to be artists from youth, Aquino’s interest in art came a bit later, at the age of 14. The Peruvian artist and painter genuinely started his artistic journey at the age of 17 when he decided to apply to the School of Fine Arts in Lima, Perú. Being exceptionally talented, Aquino was accepted, and studied painting, drawing and printmaking there for 5 years from 1965 - 1970. He then traveled to England in 1973 to continue his education at Cardiff College of Art in Wales on a British Council Fellowship, which led to his inevitable pilgrimage to the art Mecca, New York in 1977 thanks to his Fulbright Fellowship and has been there ever since. 

A FORM OF EXPRESSION?

“The colors, the idea, the dedication, and the fact that the teacher was very patient with me. So, I like that space. So, somehow it caught my attention to that world. I guess my sensibility for color or different shapes, the space was such that you get an impression of me.”

CHALLENGES RECREATING MASTER PAINTINGS

“It depends what the difficulty will be based on, the nuances, the expression of it, or how you assimilate the main source which is the work by the master. And the fusion that this can be done with, and your own interpretation. So, it is not always easy, you see.”

Aquino did works on paper when he was 25 or 26 a recreation of the master Rembrandt’s work, placing the art legend in the middle of his black and white recreation. The old work he did during that time is something speaks fondly of, finding them to be quite appealing. He drew the Dutch master in graphite, placing him within his signature surreal styled works, amidst a metaphysical world, as a way to pay homage to one of his greatest art influences and heroes. The piece was made with a myriad of pencils, some of them softer, though most of them ranged from 3h, 4h, all the way to 7h hardness. He finds the pieces to be timeless, still appreciating the mysteriousness they evoke, even after all this time.

REPRESENTATION OF TWO ARTISTS IN ONE

It is important to Aquino that he pays homage to the masters, a sentiment he believes all should share, deeming it an important aspect of any artist’s journey into maturation. An artist bereft of this underlying respect and a humble disposition, one lacks the sophistication required to truly honor and respect the artistry that’s embedded into the work’s produced by these masters. He greatly admires Rembrandt just as he admires many other masters like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Van Eyck, and more. “Those are my leaders, my guides…my masters.”

ARTISTIC VIEW OF THE WORLD

“Needless to say, these experiences allow us human beings to get a better perspective of the world. You know a more personal vision of what our purpose is here on earth. And in the future to leave a legacy with what we did while we were alive. So, I think it’s important for us to leave something positive, an imprint to our country, to our relatives, to our friends…the big names. The ones who did it proper and somehow try to make some history. In a very humble and dignified way, but you know the sky's the limit. We have to pursue it, we only have one time to do it while we’re alive and conscious.”

LEAVING LEGACY

“By doing something, I guess exemplary, you know. Clear, direct, and serious. So, that way, we continue in this world, as artists.”

CARLOS BACA-FLOR SOBERÓN

The concept of culture and its role in the development of our society is quite important to us as a species, but Aquino saw fit to emphasize this point with a story about an artist by the name of Carlos Baca-Flor Soberón.

Aquino tells the rich and detailed story of Baca-Flor, a Peruvian painter who lived during the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. Aquino describes Baca-Flor as having a very interesting personality, an observation that couldn’t be more understated, and a point which will become more present as this legendary artist’s tale unfurls. Baca-Flor’s parents saw being an artist as a purposeful endeavor, encouraging him to go to Chile and study art, which he did from the age of 12 until the age of 21 years old. The faculty recognized his amazing talent and adorned him with the unofficial title of ‘Main Student’. The Chilean school where Baca-Flor studied was going to send him to Rome to continue his studies and subsequent art career. But, their offer was far from unconditional, though seeing his flourishing talent they wanted Baca-Flor to acquire his Chilean citizenship, to which he promptly and surprisingly declined the prestigious offer. To Baca-Flor the attainment of his Chilean citizenship was seen as the abandonment of his cherished Peruvian roots thus, his nationality and culture, which meant more to him then mere success. In light of Baca-Flor’s unflagging loyalty to his country he was elevated by Perú, though it did mean dealing with quite a bit of political bureaucracy, prolonging his wait by 3 more years before receiving the appropriate aid.

Once in Rome, a friend of Baca-Flor’s suggested that he should head to Paris. Baca-Flor accepted and once in Paris won first place in the annual salon of French artists; sixty critics unanimously declared him the winner. His work was then later exhibited in the "Salon of Honor". Alongside winning awards and exhibiting his work, he also painted a particularly significant and famed individual, master tailor who went by the name of Mr. Worth. Once creating the painting of the tailor, its quality grabbed the attention of the American banking magnate, John Pierpont Morgan aka J.P Morgan of the J.P. Morgan, who happened upon the work, exclaiming, “Incredible...I should meet him; I never thought I would find a painter who could paint my portrait.” After quite a bit of convincing, Baca-Flor accepted Morgan’s invitation to New York, where he lived for approximately 20 years, painting portraits of some of the most influential movers and shakers of the city.

Aquino tells this captivating story to reinforce a point about the dichotomy of certain individuals, those who possess the required perseverance to attain success, and those who pass away without notice. The reason Aquino offers for this phenomena is that many people are so ingrained, so fixated and immersed in their own worlds that they fail to identify those extraordinary people who constitute art and culture. He goes on to point out that the failure to acknowledge the influential, culture building individuals by that of countries and institutional authorities alike is a dreadful misstep. Aquino feels that it must be someone’s duty to keep track of them, or as he puts it, “getting to know, “‘Who’s who...Look, Juan Diego Flores. I am so proud of him. This is our best letter of introduction to the world…” Aquino goes on to list the innumerable amount of talent hailing from Perú, punctuating and reinforcing his point about the necessity of keeping track of all those important Peruvian figures, for in doing so uplifts the culture, effectively documenting history in the making.

In summation, Aquino, after a riveting and insightful story about influence, passion, and meaningfulness comes to the inevitable conclusion that artists are always attempting to leave their indelible mark upon the world. “So, to answer your question, in how we artists try to leave our own print, our own trace in the world. We have to keep trying…”

“...YOU NEVER STOP LEARNING”

Aquino articulates about learning through the use of books, and how a book collector can experience life via the same passion and perception as an art collector. He describes in vivid detail how books can have an impact on someone, not just with the words written within, but also with its binding, color, texture, and weight. There are thousands of book collections across the world, all inspire a sense of pride within those who own them. Much like an art collector giddily exhibiting their exclusive stock, one can also be a witness to that mirrored, prideful exuberance seen in that of collectors of books. These agglomerations, even in Spanish speaking countries, like Perú, are heavily influenced by the English. Aquino comments on this topic, “It’s amazing to see that. How powerful culture is.”

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD IN ART

Aquino is a huge proponent of teaching and learning through art, as one would expect from an art teacher and long time practitioner to boot. A common thread in the words Aquino uses when discussing the intricacies of art's profound effect upon the world is his emphasis on color, which is not unexpected due to his emphatic, skillful use of it in his work. Though that is only one of many concepts that flutter within the wellspring of Aquino’s brilliantly creative mind. Other postulations like ideas, style, and fashion creep through, bleeding into the conversation with Tori Indeed on Vibe2Vibe TV, as he emphasizes the overall cultural implications thereof. To truly drive home the importance of these topics Aquino quotes a famous Greek philosopher and physician by the name of Hippocrates, “Ars longa, vita brevis,” which roughly translates into “Life is short, but art is forever.” The quote is as deep and meaningful as they come, and though the translation carries with it ambiguity in reference to the word ‘art’, regardless of the speculative nature to its connotation, i.e. ‘Fine art’ versus one’s adherence to a committed practice, the result of the quote’s contextual usage, alas, remains the same. Many artists and artistic genres like films, dance, and music have modified the quote to adopt its intimation and apply it to their own industry. Effectively, the aim of this adoption is to personify the human condition with regards to how a creator’s life’s work supersedes them, even long after they’ve perished. Aquino compares artists to the great philosophers, healers, monks and all trailblazers of time and memoriam, like Hippocrates, Plato, and Socrates, remarking on their shared intentions, that is the alchemical process of distilling the metaphysical world into something comprehensible. It is in this practice with which artists so often dabble, that is answering questions about the unknown as such, to facilitate the process of synthesizing and transmuting the intangibles into something tangible.

LESS CONFLICT IN THE WORLD

Aquino has a specific philosophy about the inherent tethering between people, and the part that intellectualism plays within the confines of that human interpersonal experience. He proposes that to begin a constructive dialogue that both parties must be aligned, and if someone isn’t ready, then there can be no healthy confab, “The requirement is a certain level of understanding so that we can connect, you see, and exchange ideas. And if we do that, there will be less conflict in the world, right? It will be more peaceful, more creative, more authentic, more honest, and not that, you know, demeaning.”

METAPHYSICAL REPRESENTATIONAL PAINTER

It has been a particularly difficult task for Aquino to define his work, furthermore, it was equally difficult to define himself. He hinted at the lack of consciousness and deliberateness regarding his proposed definitions, because for the unorthodox and sophisticated artist it has been about conjecture. Aquino’s interest in the shapes, colors, forms, and machinations that are the foundational building blocks to his artistic process acted as a buttress in his subsequent process of identifying his work. Additionally, those aforementioned shapes, colors, and forms, and their interplay within the physical world, helped him to make sense of his work’s identity through that surrounding reality, both as informer and supporter in the expressive elements that conceptually comprised his work. In that elusive search for conceptual structure Aquino was forced to blend multiple disciplines of art, pairing them with the words he felt most adequately described the essence therein. Firstly, in regards to his surrealism, with its eerie, psychological, and abstract intimations that are part and parcel of the genre, Aquino found that the best descriptor for it was the term ‘metaphysical’. Secondly, a large portion of his practice was in representing the material world through realism, hence, ‘representational’. Lastly, and most obviously, as a ‘painter’ the final defining word that characterizes him and his work should need no further explanation. Thus, with all the pieces put together to the best of his ability, Aquino deemed himself a ‘Metaphysical Representational Painter’.

In an unprecedented display, Aquino flips the script at the end of his in deep and insightful Vibe2Vibe interview by asking a simple, yet pointed question to his interviewer, Tori Indeed, “Why did you change your name from Victoria to Tori, and why Indeed?” Taken aback, as one would to have the script quite literally flipped on them, Tori respondes, “I love my name Victoria, I used Tori as a way to separate my personal life, from my business life, and the Indeed is to say that I am indeed Victoria. It is a way to say that I am true to myself.”

In conclusion, Aquino comments about his creative future, “Immersed in the work process, working peacefully on my new pieces and trying to complete a new body of work.” MOST iNFLUENTIAL ART cannot adequately express how humbled we are to have had an artist of this caliber on the cover of our publication. It has truly been an honor to represent Humberto Aquino, and we are all holding our breath in anticipation for this master’s upcoming body of work.

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