For more than forty years, Juan José Cambre has been obsessed with paint and its immediate possibilities in terms of texture, colour and representation. His practice, a stubborn vocation, is grounded in an historical acknowledgement of the medium’s variations across times and territories. In the beginning, this need to paint offered so many possibilities in brush strokes and layering that Cambre was lost in a world of matter, where everything seemed possible and, on occasions, collided.
It took time and introspection to subdue this zest for the plasticity of the medium, eventually achieving the subtlety of delicate layers or glazes visible in his current work. From expressionist human figures in the 1980s through to still lifes in the 1990s, his work has evolved into austere canvases: fields of colour in space where elliptical figures refer back to his earlier still lifes.
In other works, photos that he has taken of landscapes are projected onto the canvas, on which the landscape is then been painted in lighter and darker hues of the same colour, both stressing and denying a monochromatic identity. Here, the Vitamin P3-featured painter tells us what interests, inspires and spurs him on.
Who are you? I’m a painter. I spend half my time painting in my studio in Buenos Aires and the other half in the sierras in Córdoba, Argentina.
What´s on your mind right now? I’m curating a small group show called Barroco with works by contemporary Argentine artists to be held at Vasari Gallery in Buenos Aires. In 2014, I curated Gracias Piedra at that same venue and, in 2016, I curated Seré feliz, a solo show of paintings by Gilda Picabea held at Hache Gallery in Buenos Aires.
How do you get this stuff out? Some of the things I see around me take my breath away. For example, the windows at Ronchamp or the orange tarp on a truck driving down the highway. My work is an attempt to incite that same feeling. I don’t think I manage to do it, but that’s what I aim for.
My method consists of taking those very specific images from reality - the images that move me - to the terrain of painting, knowing for certain that what I have to do with that original image is to take it to the minimal degree of expression. My pictorial technique varies with the series, but - for instance - I might represent the orange tarp by painting a blue surface around an unpainted rectangle on a piece of wood where, in that bare area, all that is seen is the wood’s grain.
How does it fit together? I don't know. That is why I love curators!
What brought you to this point? A long process of simplification. I think that honing the image inevitably takes you to the paint. And paint is the engine of my work.
Can you control it? I certainly try to control the presentation of what I imagine or see, such that the viewer takes part in a different reality.
Have you ever destroyed one of your paintings? Thousands of times, because they had gone too far.
What’s next for you? Lately, I’ve been wondering if, now that I live in the country half the time, it makes sense to keep painting the same way I used to, when I lived in the city. That’s what I’m thinking about. I’m not sure what comes next.
Vitamin P3 New Perspectives In Painting is the third in an ongoing series that began with Vitamin P in 2002 and Vitamin P2 in 2011. For each book, distinguished critics, curators, museum directors and other contemporary art experts are invited to nominate artists who have made significant and innovative contributions to painting. The series in general, and Vitamin P3 in particular, is probably the best way to become an instant expert on tomorrrow's painting stars today.