“Everything unusual, everything amazing, everything that goes beyond the established norms is wonderful (...) The ugly, the deformed, the terrible can also be wonderful (...)” Alejo Carpentier
Rigoberto Astupuma is a Venezuelan artist born in Caracas in 1978. When he was a child he watched his older sister draw, who had that habit; Since then, he was curious and began to be interested in drawing as a hobby, until he reached the place where he is today.
For Astupuma, art is a profession that responds to pure vocation, which is difficult to be understood and accepted by the family; however, he was lucky enough to have their support and acceptance to take on art professionally. In order to achieve this goal, he began his academic studies at the Escuela de Artes Visuales Cristóbal Rojas and continued at the Universidad Nacional Experimental de las Artes and the Instituto Pedagógico Libertador, all located in Caracas.
In his artistic production, Astupuma works on two themes, the pictorial genre of still life, with a hyper-realistic cut, and the theme of a courtly style. In his pictorial training he began with still life, a subject that has always fascinated him, which consists of a series of glass jars with fruits, meats, and sweets inside them. He called this series “Content”, for 14 years it has been a topic that he has not stopped working on, that he feels is not yet exhausted and that he enjoys doing it.
Regarding the courtly theme, it is the series that he makes within the context of pop surrealism, which he considers defines him as a painter. Within this style, the American artist Mark Ryden (1963) stands out, considered one of its creators, being he who has exerted a strong influence on Astupuma, who affirms that his work has redefined his path in painting by way of pop surrealism, thus expanding his perception of recent painting and defining his style.
Now, to better understand the courtly theme of Astupuma, let's see what the aesthetics of pop surrealism consist of, also known as “lowbrow”, the source that feeds his current visual imaginary. This artistic movement emerged in the late 1980s in the United States, assuming an irreverent, transgressive, countercultural attitude, located outside the canons established by culture and official art, characterized by being an artistic manifestation of bad taste, kitsch, with a grotesque style, since it conceives amorphous, hybrid, unpleasant beings, with an aggressive, sarcastic, ironic sense of humor.
The sources of iconographic inspiration for pop surrealism are extensive, since they come from comics, comic strips, fairy tales, tattoos, street art, graffiti, images from the cinema, television, psychedelia, combined, paradoxically, with elements of the classical pictorial tradition, as in the case of Mark Ryden who takes from Ingres and Louis David, among other French classics.
In this movement, icons belonging to mass culture, popular consumption, a central theme of pop art, are intermingled, which through its works makes social criticism, of banal aspects or questions of principles and social values; it also takes elements of surrealism, a movement that considers the unconscious as a way to free the imagination, based on André Bretón –its founder and theorist–, who proposed the idea of turning the contradictions of dreams and reality into a super reality. In the surrealist compositions, the oneiric, the dreams and the fantasy are mixed with the everyday and the rational. Hence, the repertoire of images of pop surrealism is characterized by being unusual, illogical, and disconcerting, resulting incomprehensible to many people.
The artists of this movement have had theoretical bases, knowledge of the craft and the rules of art, which, although they have handled them as they please, have allowed them to build a well-structured visual discourse; Even so, it took a long time for them to be accepted by the institutions that legitimize what they consider to be fine arts, which is why they were not given a place in their spaces; however, little by little they have been gaining acceptance among art galleries, critics, the public and collectors. It is worth noting that one of the dissemination media that has contributed to defining, disseminating, consolidating, and making this movement more recognized, until earning the place it occupies today, is the Juxtapoz Art & Culture magazine, created in the 90s by Robert Williams, another of the founders of this movement.
Currently there are many artists from different parts of the world who have joined this movement, such as the case of Astupuma, who, so far, seems to be the only Venezuelan artist who works according to the aesthetic postulates of pop surrealism. His surrealist pop work is characterized by interior and exterior scenes of amazing, strange, mysterious content, since in them a repertoire of beings –humans, humanized animals, and hybrids– and relatively unrelated objects meet and coexist: stuffed animals, dolls, roses, candies, mirrors, furniture and rugs with decorative elements typical of the Victorian and Baroque styles, among others.
Human beings, children, as taken from fairy tales, and hybrid beings, usually have small bodies, heads, and large eyes, reminiscent of Japanese manga and anime. The profusion of details in his compositions responds to a hyper-realistic quality, since for Astupuma a good painting with surrealist content must be represented with an almost photographic treatment, since as the scenes do not have a coherence, a logical explanation, it must be represented in a clear and recognizable form to the viewer, towards whom his characters address themselves with an expression of cynicism and mystery, which he accentuates with the use of color in pastel, cold, grayish tones.
The symbolic content, the enigmatic scenes and atmospheres of his compositions, which lead to confusion, will inevitably lead the viewer to generate questions that probably will not have answers, or perhaps will have many, as diverse as the interpretations around the pop surrealist visual discourse of this Venezuelan artist.
José Gregorio Noroño