A Life Of Canvas


A life on canvas

While artist Rafael Pintos-López has chosen realism as painting style,
there is still some mystery to his work, Libby Peacock discovers.

As a child in Argentina, painter Rafael Pintos-López grew up surrounded by magnificent art. “Mum instilled in us a love for painting. Some of her best friends were painters, we had art at home and we regularly went to exhibitions”, he says.
But although he has painted all his life, his art normally ended up with family and friends. “I never thought of exhibiting my work until a few years ago,” says Pintos-López, who works from his home in the bush in Michelago, 50 km south of Canberra.
While he only started painting “seriously” at the age of 45, recent work has met with acclaim. The artist has won four prizes for three of his paintings presented at the last Artists’ Society of Canberra (ASOC) exhibition, including first and second prizes for portrait and figure painting, a first for still life and best-of-show award.
“Many people who start painting late in life end up doing watercolours and landscapes, but that is not what I want to do. I am interested in many different things and like to express my emotions, demons, ideas and concepts through painting,” says the artist, who describes his style as tight realism. “Although I have absolutely nothing against any other style, I enjoy realism. What you see is what you get – there is nothing hidden,” he stresses. “I am a linguist by training and translating for international conferences is my bread and butter, but painting is my main thing. It’s where I go when I want to be on my own. It’s my bubble, my refuge.”
“What I try to do when I paint is to get in touch with you. I may insult you, caress you, love you. I want you to take what I am giving and that’s all. But I don’t simply copy things. There is some mystery in what I do –or I hope there is. When I paint about my demons I’m not telling you what they are, but they are there and you’re probably going to see them.”
Notwithstanding his love for realism, Pintos-López’s work is constantly evolving. “No painter can say they’re not changing. If they’re not, they’re dead.”Recently , I started exploring religión as a subject. I am not a deeply religious man, but I believe in having some sort of direction, going forward, improving, becoming more spiritual,” he says.
He feels particularly strongly about one new painting, Hand of an Extraordinary Man, depicting the hand of Jesus with dirty fingernails. “Blasphemy as an artistic response is not appealing to me, but I thought there should be a way of expressing Christ’s humanity. The dirty nails are my answer to that. Jesus was indeed an extraordinary man – a great man – with amazing visión and charisma, but he was a man – and a carpenter at that. I know it’s a bit confronting, but that’s what I believe, anyway.”
“I think the painting has strength. The light reminds me of [Spanish baroque-era Francisco de] Zurbarán´s work, which does not surprise me because he is a great influence, but it was not intentional. When playwrights say characters take a life of their own, they might as well be describing what happens with paintings sometimes.¨
Other artistic influences are the work of American realist painter Andrew Wyeth and 18th-century still life painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin. “All the painters I admire the most are realistic painters. I’m not trying to copy any of them, but I love what they do. There is something quite fantastic about objects and I enjoy doing still life, where it’s all about the light.”
We’re all trying to come up with ‘the’ painting and the only way to do that is to produce the best quality posible. Through copying you learn technique, but ultimately it’s substance that matters,” he says.
Other passions include writing short stories in Spanishy and jewellery design. “For some reason, my jewellery ends up looking very Spanish, probably because what you absorb as a child emerges again when you’re older. I use silver and some gold. I don’t sell it – I just make it for my wife.”
Pintos-López, who came to Australia as a 25 year old and has lived here for four decades, is about to embark on a year-long visit to South America with his wife Inés and one of his sons, 15 year-old Millán. “I want Millán to learn Spanish and the only way to do this properly is to immerse him in it,” he says. (His other sons and stepdaughters are grown up and “doing their own thing”.)
While based in Buenos Aires, Pintos-López will take the opportunity to travel to Perú and Uruguay and to sketch. Í’ve never really had the time to do this during previous visits, which are always short holidays and visits with family and friends.” He aims to return to Australia in January 2009 with enough paintings for an exhibition.
“I’ve had a productive life so far and did what I had to do to provide for my family, but my dream is to contribute whatever in terms of my art, to be able to express my ideas and to be listened to. I have things to say and if people can read these things in my art, I’ll be very happy. It doesn’t matter if my name is there, I just hope my art is there.”

Canberra Times – Wednesday, January 16, 2008