The gold of memory
For centuries restoration theorists, artists and even some poets, such as John Dryden wonder if it is legitimate to remove the layer of material that tarnishes the whiteness of the marble, but testifying to its experience. And, expanding the reflection, whether it is really the case to intervene on a painting to bring a color back to the (presumed) original radiance; or to delete a detail added by hands certainly different from those of the author, but so long ago to have become in their own way “authentic” themselves, absorbed in the evolutionary identity of that work.
It seems like a debate for specialists, and perhaps it really is, as long as we talk about phidiac sculpture, Roman architecture and Renaissance painting. But the question becomes topical, and knocks on the door, when in the attic or in the cellar it happens to recover a dusty box, and inside that box you discover photographs in black and white, or sepia colors, damaged by time and humidity, debilitated by mold and crystallization that erode the support and blur the image. In front of those photographs we are called to decide: limit ourselves to preserve or intervene and clean up, perhaps fill the gaps, running the risk of losing everything, starting from the charm of the object found?
Where everyone sees divergent paths opening up, an artist is needed to recognize a range of possibilities. One like Oscar Brum, for example. One that preserves the past, the sentimental authenticity of the photographs found, while avoiding embalming them in a case. One that renews those images, but avoiding cosmetic surgery and eschewing the contemporary myth of rejuvenation. Rather, Brum invents for them a second life that sprouts from the first and absorbs it into itself. Overwrites, adds, integrates, coats. And, through this practice, paradoxically reveals, lays bare what has survived in the photo: it awakens the echo of the past by celebrating the precious value of memory.
Memory is precious and mysterious. It preserves the past and reshapes it, returns life to those who have lost it. And precious and mysterious is the gold that Brum spreads in uneven fields on the surface of the photograph affected by time, making it dialogue with the image and with the sentimental heritage that sleeps in its depths, silent as a virgin deposit under the rock.
It is an operation, that of Oscar Brum, which recalls the Kintsugi, that Japanese restoration technique that, to weld the fragments of broken ceramics, uses a luminous mixture of lacquer and gold powder. He glorifies scars instead of concealing them, and through gold he performs the miracle of survival that is transformation and rebirth.
And it is, that of Brum, above all an operation that recalls the past of the artist's homeland: that Mexico of the Maya Peoples plundered of all wealth, starting with that gold that for the Spanish conquerors meant only money, and instead was also culture and art, spirituality and magic. Gold that Mexico often imported from the south, and which therefore constituted a common heritage. Everywhere gold was offered to deities, clothed priests, adorned chiefs and warriors. Some ceremonials of access to higher social roles provided that, after a period of meditation and penance, the initiate would be sprinkled with gold dust: then he would immerse himself in a sacred lake, returning that gold to water, nature and the gods.
In Brum's work, the link with Mexican tradition also emerges from the figurative lexicon, that is, from the themes and subjects of his sculptures and paintings. It can be seen above all in the recurring motif of the heart: painted, carved, scratched in stone or molded in shiny metal. It is the heart of Frida Kahlo's self-portraits, that one of the human sacrifices. Understood not only in its physiological value, as a vital organ, but also and above all as an embodiment of the personality of the individual, of that pulsating tangle of feelings, anxieties and emotions that really makes us human beings. It is a heritage so precious that we cannot resign ourselves to the idea that it can be lost, even after death. Then we give physically the heart of the deceased to the gods or we entrust it ideally to God, perhaps through the Inmaculado Corazon de Maria. We try to keep the memory of the deceased in our hearts. In one way or another, we try to ensure a dialogue with those who are no longer there: and that dialogue on the one hand finds a very powerful symbol in the heart, on the other rests on memory, a sentimental memory that, for a couple of centuries now, has found its first activator in photography: the visual testimony that survives the subject, but must fight in turn a exhausting battle with time.
It becomes almost superfluous, at this point, to contextualize another of Oscar Brum's strands of work, the one dedicated to the theme of the Día de Muertos and the Calavera Catrina: a spectacular example of syncretism and multiculturalism that perpetuates the pre-Columbian spirit by merging it with the Hispanic and Catholic one. In some way the Dia de Muertos comforts us, telling us that we have not mistaken in entrusting the hearts of our loved ones to the gods: in the afterlife, the person whose images and memory we keep continues to be himself, albeit in a new form. He can even come back to us. Like the Kintsugi cups, like the photographs alchemically regenerated in gold by Oscar Brum.
Art critic Roberto Mottadelli. Milan 11.22
Selected exhibitions & awards.
2022 Metaphysical realm of the soul, Solo exhibition, Spazio Arte Tolomeo Gallery, Milan, Italy.
2022 Permanent solo show, Humo Tulum. Yucatán, Mexico.
2022 Live painting intervention, Integration Heroes Match. San Siro Stadium. Milan, Italy.
2022 Duomo 21, Terrazza Duomo. Milan, Italy.
2021 Family Portrait, Paratissima Art Fair. Turin, Italy.
2021 MIA Photo Fair Milano. Milan, Italy. New Post Photograpy? Award.
2020 Paratissima Talents, the best of the 15th edition. Turin, Italy.
2020 RIPHOTO - "Oltre l'immagine". Rivarolo Canavese, Italy.
2019 Looking for Art Contest. Milan, Italy. Public's choice Award.
2019 PHOCUS & Multiversity", Paratissima Art Fair. Turin, Italy. Paratissima Talents Award.
2018 Outstanding Alumni Exhibition. ITESM University Library, Mexico City. 1st place Award.
2017 Sculptural Intervention, Babel Galería Itinerante. Mexico City.
2016 Art Cirquit - solo show, Bistro Roma. Mexico City.
2015 Spirits of Life & Death - solo show, Bálsamo Gallery. Mexico City.
2014 Number 3, Aguafuerte Gallery. Mexico City.
From a very young age, Oscar has been naturally drawn to art. He started experimenting with different materials and techniques throughout his childhood and early youth, first merely as a game which transformed into a very strong curiosity towards the art world.
This curiosity grew exponentially when he began to travel as part of his international university studies on business administration, exposing himself to museums, galleries, concerts, and all kinds of artistic expressions. Australia, Europe and Mexico were the most influential places during this “discovery” phase as it was in these places where he started producing art not for entertainment or as a hobby anymore but with a much more serious approach.
Oscar focused entirely on painting as his vehicle for self-inquiry and it is at this point where his characteristic style began to take form. Starting from pencil sketches drawn while at his business classes and later transporting the same methodology onto bigger formats, different materials and more and more complex compositions.
It was in painting where he felt an extension of himself, where he first found a way to exteriorize his ideas and bring to life the world inside his head and heart.
During the last few years, Oscar has developed a self-taught creative process introducing and integrating concepts, theories and intimate interests through a very personal approach and an ever-widening scope.
In 2017 he started an Arts Management Master by the Bocconi Graduate School in Milan, Italy. This experience was a turning point in his career due to the incredible exposure to many forms of art and art expression. Being immersed in this world totally changed his views for the future and would dictate the course of his life in the following years.
The symbolism and universal significance of the heart at both physical and metaphysical levels have and continue to be one of the main subjects of his painting and sculptural work, alongside profound research on spirituality, self-confrontation, reflections about the art world, and an ever growing curiosity about the reality around us; which are constantly evolving in time and through different stages of his life until today.
Oscar’s deep interest in the big mysteries of the universe and the close relation he perceives between them and the millenary knowledge of ancient civilizations, particularly from Asia and Latin America, have also become a fundamental conceptual basis of his work.
One of the most representative examples of these interests is his reinterpretation and combination of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi and scientific phenomena such as life, quantum theory, space-time, and consciousness through various series of photo-intervention pieces with which he has been awarded several prices such as the “Best Artists” Award by the 15th edition of Paratissima Contemporary Art Fair in Turin and the “New Post-Photography?” Award by the MIA Poto Fair in Milan.