Buenos Aires Herald, January 14th, 1994.
The very substance of memory
By Beatriz Vignoli
At the Coghlan railway station, the sun sets strangely, with an autumnal slant. It’s a serenely melancholy landscape of vacant lots and trees behind the old Victorian building of the station. “I would come and play soccer here when I was a child”, artist Patricio Larrrambebere says. “This used to be a bucolic place. And still is. But that horrible apartment building over there…”.
Patricio Larrambebere was born only 25 years ago, but he could just as well be an English gentleman transplanted to Buenos Aires in the heyday of the railways. He even shares old Englishmen’s resentment against “uglification” perpetrated in the name of progress. Patricio’s fascination with British culture can be traced back to his late childhood and early teens, when he started listening to his elder brother’s 45 RPM and LP vinyl records of The Who, and became a fan of the guitar-shattering British group.
Later, the modern academy training he received at the Prilidiano Pueyrredón visual arts school would help him channel his teenage devotion into a personal visual language, rich in technical skill and contemporary art-history awareness.
Now a train passes by. I look inside, only to see orange plastic seats and bored passengers. “They can’t do anything right in this country,” Patricio complains in his distinctively low-keyed voice. “Nothing is left of those handsome wood –furnished wagons I used to ride to attend high school”.
But something IS left. An original “No Smoking” sign from one of those wagons was patiently traced, found and conveniently traded by Larrambebere, who then included it in one of his mixed media works. His latest acquisition is a 1982 train ticket of the kind used in his school days, when they still bore the words “Coghlan-Retiro” (the current ones read “Florida-Retiro”).
Against what I had supposed, Patricio does not massively scavenge his raw materials as did Kurt Schwitters (an artist he admires) but rather collects them selectively, by whatever means necessary, preferably civilized. Items no longer produced or used are to him of infinite sentimental and cultural value. He has a conservationist hunter’s eye for endangered species of things, of which he is less a collector than a poetic archaeologist: he seems to have journeyed back into time after them.
But collecting rare vintage objects is just a first step in the complex creative process from which Larrambebere’s images will finally emerge. Objects are seldom glued directly onto his collages on hardboard. They’re generally reelaborated. Their labels are important: he draws them, xeroxes them, xeroxes photographs or his own drawings of them, and has recently begun painting them on canvas in a larger scale.
“I’m interested in the graphic visual quality of the label’s design,” he says about this new series. His rendering of labels in these new works is “cooler” than in previous works such as Mi kiosco rioplatense, where Jack chocolate bars, Chiclefort chewing gum and Cunnington Ginger Ale are evoked with a tenderness of feeling and a painterly sensibility that brings to mind early British Pop by young David Hockney, but with a “rioplatens”, more nostalgic and moody emocional depth.
To construct his collages, Larrambebere applies similar xeroxing processes to his material from other sources, such as his sketches of suburban landscape, his portraits (of friends, of himself, from photographs or invented) and memorabilia concerning his beloved The Who. By xeroxing, he levels all his graphic material to a single, unified graphic quality. Xeroxing his pencil drawings is to Patricio a faster equivalent of lithograph, a technique he considers obsolete, not only because it’s expensive and slow, but also for a very simple reason: quarries of lithographic slab stones have already been exhausted.
Xerox copies are further reworked by the artist through what seems to me a rewriting process: they’re painted or drawn over, blown up or reduced to adjust their scale and only then tidily pasted together. Mosaics clustering different images begin them to emerge. Images are linked horizontally or vertically along complex grids and sub-grids, in what looks like a comic-strip narrative structure, or like the half-planned, half ‘natural’ growth of a city as photographed from a satellite. (It also makes me think of a microscopical, Klee-esque constructivism; of Rauschenberg-ian memory quilts, and of cells at the cortical tissue, the very substance of memory). A Larrambebere collage is a mysteriously uttered autobiographical novel, rich in generational allusions; I guess it could also be placed as a musical score by a furiously punching drum player, without missing a beat.
Images enter the protolinguistic system of Larrambebere’s collages as if they were words that can be re-used endlessly. Some recur hauntingly, as does the effigy of The Who’s drum placer Keith Moon wearing a target T-Shirt that seems to be foreboding his untimely death in 1978. Dead and living persons seem to enjoy a new or parallel existence in Larrambebere’s intense, finely executed portraits.
Particularly empathic is a portrait he did of his friend Pablo Romero, with whom he shared his first show, “Who are the Mods”, in 1990. Romero posed for that portrait with his motorcycle, a Vespa, in a poignant scene reminding of Quadrophenia, a cult film by The Who that inspired many of Romero’s lithographs for that show. (“He would run the film’s video over and over, freeze an image and take down notes,” Patricio recalls.)
Larrambebere has also shown in salons, in two of the three young biennals, at the Recoleta cultural centre and at alternative spaces. He is also part of La muestra que va, a nomadic art project that’s planning a group show in Rosario at Rozarte’s “El Galpón” this year.
But his collages, that he sometimes organizes together into multi-panelled installations, are just a sub-genre within this young artist’s versatile production. When he “only” paints, results are also powerful. He’s fond of portraying the quaint railway landscapes of his home range, the harbour and the crumbling houses at La Boca, and an almost abstract, calligraphic pier that could be as much be located in Brighton as in Quilmes.
Larrambebere finds interesting similarities between the industrial suburbs and their social landscape both in Buenos Aires and London, a city that he visited in 1991. “Both here and there, unemployment is a social problem that makes young people see no future and give a damn about everything.” Patricio’s response to this situation is doubtlessly more creative, and shares some of The Who’s typically British extreme romanticism. His multicultural art is a vital effort to come to terms with loss, hopelessness and decay. There’s some redemptive sense of commitment —though intimate and eccentric— in his lovingly pieced up together reconstructions of a shattered world. It’s as if every hole torn into the fabric of reality (by death, modernization, or the simple passing of time) was being neatly restored by caring hands, Larrambebere’s hands.