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Omar Banuchi Finds His Niche in the Puerto Rican Web (Part III)

*This is the third, and last, part of the series about the digital art by the Puerto Rican Omar Banuchi. Here you can read the first and the second parts.

The neighbouring room to Omar Banuchi's bedroom is nearly empty, save for an occasional framed piece that remains lying in the corner.  It was here where the artist brought me to have a look at his work throughout the years.  It's inevitable, the pornographic drawings are the first that catch your attention: girls indulging in oral sex, group sex scenes; these are the markers of the first era of his work, where the imaginary element of his comics combined with the hard core aesthetic.  Superheroes and money shots: a sensitivity characteristic of nerd art and masculine fantasies, whether it be in Brooklyn, Berlin or Rio Piedras.

“Omar's images feel kind of porn,” the singer Eduardo Alegría would mention to me later. With his extensive career in performance, experimental dance and as one of the principal singers and composers of the iconic group of post-pop Superaquello, Alegría is the closest there is to an elder statesman on the local scene.  The first pieces of Banuchi that he saw captivated him, and he ended up recruiting the young artist for his new musical project, Alegría Rampante, the group he has with musician Harry Rag. Here you can view the video of “Esquina Periferia” by Alegría Rampante, with illustrations by Omar Banuchi:

“When you look at his art you feel as if you were looking at something that you don't know quite what it is,” he continued.  “It's like the fascination of finding old photos in a dumpster without knowing who the subjects are, and you end up creating a story in your head of what you are seeing.”

The end result of the collaboration between the two can be seen in “Se nos fue la mano,”  a series of singles by Alegría Rampante complimented with videos, concerts and drawings reminiscent of the fragmented stories created by Banuchi. “For each song that he makes, my work is to create an image that goes with the single. He is supposed to release a song every two months, and already he has released three,” explains Banuchi.

In songs such as “Esquina Periferia,” “Hotel Puercoespín” and “Un cuarto más pequeño,” the sensitivities of the musician and the artist meet.  In the process you can glimpse a sort of generational overlap of two creators characterised by their rare vision, yet ironic and vulnerable at the same time.

Digital STIGMA

Banuchi's career path can be seen in the transformation that his illustrations have had Omar Banuchi Sex Voguein the last five years.  The technique has been refined, and the topics point towards an increased maturity.  Due to their closeness, Rosaura Rodríguez has had a front row seat in viewing this growth.

“He worked on nudes before, with stronger sex scenes,” she said.  “His art was more sexual and a little more pop. Now it continues to be pop, but he has gone in the direction of portraits, and of superheroes doing everyday things.”

The sophistication in the images, which increasingly are more narrative, was what most attracted Eduardo Alegría since the beginning.  “They have a colourful, vibrant, polished quality,” he said.  “Part of what makes something pop is the feeling that it has a finish, like a well-made product”.

Despite his success, Banuchi still regularly comes across preconceptions of the digital medium, as if the technology that he uses makes him less of an artist.

“The medium does create a little bit of stigma,” he told me the last time we met.  “There are times when the gallery owner has said to me ‘try to make a painting.’  But I don't like this opinion that since my drawings are not paintings they are not considered art.”

The gallery owner that requested this of him understands his dilemma perfectly.  “There was a moment when I challenged him, and he made two acrylic pieces, but he did not translate well outside of the digital sphere,” Beto Torrens told me.  The challenge was motivated by collectors who tend to be older and are unable to accept that a piece that exists as a digital archive can be of the same level as a  painting or silk-screen printing.

“That's when I realised his essence,” added Torrens.  “I told him ‘keep going with your original vision and your designs, someday people are going to realise the value that your pieces have.’”

All of this means little to nothing for a series of drawings that find themselves at home in so many different spaces. Though some of the pieces may be printed as limited editions that are bought by collectors, many of them never leave the screen. His drawings are moulded to the singles of Alegría Rampante and eventually will be the album's sleeve.  The illustrations are shown in the same way through the pages of “Días,” and -possibly- on the walls of Benicio Del Toro. Although the art of Banuchi –personalised and witty- seems to mirror the creator, this mirror is not limited to a particular form.  Why create limitations if this diversity also reflects his lifestyle and the people who share his art?

“I like being a digital artist,” he concluded telling me the last time we met.  “I like that it's the current medium of my work.”

*The images are published with the artist's permission.

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