In Humberto Aquino’s work, a lifelong quest of a very personal, almost intimate nature unfolds. In this compilation of earlier and recent paintings, a fair sampling of his work in the last two decades, he lays down the parameters of his identity as an artist and his place in the universe as a man. This is the case not only in the self portraits, it is also there in portraits of others and in his intricate, carefully staged still-lifes. Aquino does not remove himself and let the material speak out. He is very much present in all his work, leaving personal clues here and there that make his explicit signature AQUINO FECIT or AQUINO PICTOR – quite superfluous, without being objectionable.
Aquino has left behind, far behind, previous ventures during the seventies down the surrealist road, firmly staking out his territorial claim in the realist, indeed hyper-realist realm. He renders objects with such authenticity that, forsaking the jargon (Which I do not master) for the sake of clarity they might be described as tactile and present, even immediate. The pristine quality of his representation of items as diverse as a translucent crystal ball, a casually draped, creased sheet, a pharmaceutical jar, and textures as varied as wrought iron, paper, well-worn wood or cut glass, speak eloquently of rigorous training. He is uncompromisingly meticulous, almost precious.
At the same time, there is a certain subtlety in his use of tones: While his Works are far from somber, he shuns brightness as such. He is not impressed with primary colors. His palette is submitted to a strict triage that produces an attenuated, subdued result. There is a curious democracy to his treatment of objects, drawing beauty Without discrimination as much from a stale loaf of bread as from a doll’s face or an elegant woman’s languid smile. The depth and reach of his ambition does not suffer from, nor is it belied by the modest scale of his works. His intimate quest takes him on an itinerary close to the land of miniaturism, even in the larger works.
Aquino makes no secret, indeed proudly displays his essential Peruvianity - if that is the word. This he has done in a 1984 full-length self-portrait (not in this show) in Andean garb, from head – covered with a simple chullo – to toe, shod with authentic ojotas. It appears also in a small ceramic pre-Columbian figure, sometimes centrally placed, sometimes disembodied, with a quizzical semi-smile, as if wondering how it came to travel so far from home.
But Aquino is not hostage to his origins. He has struck out into the world, taken from it and assimilated it to his complex, still open and emerging identity. Humberto Aquino is in a curios position, firmly entrenched as a follower of the great masters of Western art and yet with his feet firmly planted in contemporary New York. While in many ways his work is a throwback to bygone eras, through his humor and playfulness he manages to stay somehow away from above the cutting edge, so that, in a paradoxical, light and disconcerting way, he seems not to be the slightest bit out of place. Amidst all the din and brouhaha, it is somehow comforting to have him with us and producing his very own brand of art.
Álvaro de Soto
Peruvian diplomat (Retired)
Former Chairman of the Arts Committee at the United Nations, New York