Usher, Debra. “Painting the Impossible”, in Arabella, Canadian Art, Architecture & Design, Fall Harvest 2013, Volume 6, Issue 3, St. Andrews, New Brunswick


Painting the Impossible - Written by Debra Usher

To view the joyful paintings of Humberto Pinochet is to set out on a magical mystery tour to the far reaches of the globe – reveling in vivid shades and scenarios with no passport required.

Humberto was born in Santiago, Chile, son of Jorge Pinochet – farmer, rancher and rodeo champion – and Sylvia Araya, artist. He spent his youth in Linares, in the south of Chile, on a ranch that served as a gathering place for painters, sculptors, writers and many others from the artistic community. Growing up in artists’ studios greatly influenced his childhood interest in the visual arts. “My artistic talent manifested itself at an early age,” states Humberto. “I had my own easel and paints at the age of 9 and won my first contest when I was ten years old. My mother was my guiding light. I lived her successes and failures as if they were my own.”

Being a curious person by nature led Humberto to travel extensively in a quest to learn more about the world and its history. He feels blessed to have always had creative people around him, but his life’s path was also influenced by the unfortunate realities of war and exile.



“My first trip outside of Chile came when I was 14 years old,” Humberto notes. “My parents put their trust in me and gave me special permission, which had to be notarized to allow me to leave the country. Two friends and I hitchhiked across the world’s most arid desert to Peru. This whet my appetite and I have spent the better part of my life travelling throughout the world discovering its marvels and living its history: Europe by train, the Nordic countries, Italy’s Roman Empire and Renaissance cities, following in the footsteps of the impressionists in France, the pre-Colombian cultures of Mexico, the Brittany of my ancestors, the Magdalen Islands (Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine) by boat, the American far west by Harley Davidson, the world of Hannibal and the Tunisian Sahara region, a trek across the Atacama Desert by motorcycle. From my native country to my adopted land, the world has been opened to me and I intend to continue to explore it as long as my health allows.”

Years spent at the Catholic University of Valparaiso fuelled Humberto’s desire to learn. He recalls, “My creativity flourished and the doors to the temple of wisdom opened to me. The first part of my university education was spent under the shackles of a military dictatorship. Fortunately, I was able to complete my studies in a more serene atmosphere at the Faculty of Visual Arts at Laval University upon my arrival in Canada in 1977.”


Power of Place

Life is unpredictable and we rarely end up where we thought the road was taking us. When Humberto was young, his mother’s friend, famous Chilean painter Pacheco Altamirano, asked the boy what he wanted to do with his life. He had seen Humberto’s paintings and believed he had the talent to be a successful painter. It was then that Humberto realized he could paint for a living if he chose to do so. The encounter made such an impression, he says he can still see Pacheco’s face, 50 years later.

Humberto is an artist who finds joy in the everyday and the exotic and is greatly influenced by his surroundings. He states, “The region where I have chosen to live, Charlevoix, is one of the most inspirational places in Quebec. Some of Canada’s greatest artists have painted in this beautiful setting: A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Clarence Gagnon, Marc-Aurele Fortin and René Richard, to name a few. Others, like me, have chosen to settle here. Baie-St-Paul has the greatest concentration of art galleries per sq. km than anywhere else in Canada. For the past 21 years, I have lived alone in my studio/home with the St. Lawrence River at my doorstep to benefit from an environment that stimulates my creativity with no agenda to tie me down.”

In his studio, Humberto is surrounded by books, magazines, paintings, drawings, photos and souvenirs of his trips throughout the world. “The studio,” he says, “is a laboratory of thought. It is the place where I spend all of my time in search of true creativity.” He also describes himself as a travelling artist, inspired by the lives and works of other artists.

“I am intrigued by artists with force of character. Their history and their stories fascinate me, for behind the art is the person who creates it. I especially appreciate works that are testimonials to the human experience. I believe art should reflect the times in which it was created.” Humberto is drawn to the work of artists like Mir and Sorolla from Spain, who attempt to reveal the light rather than portray dark subjects.


Recognizing Excellence

Humberto Pinochet devotes himself passionately to his painting and has participated in numerous artistic and cultural events around the world, including more than 100 exhibitions in Canada, South America, the United States and Europe. Urban scenes, landscapes and marine themes are among his favourite subject matters.

Over the years, he has participated in over 60 painting symposia across Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes and has won numerous prizes and distinctions. He has been honoured many times by the Académie Internationale des Beaux-Arts du Québec, as Academician in 2006, Academician counsel in 2007, Master in 2009 and Artist of the Year in 2011.

The Mazarine Academy of France appointed him honorary lifetime member in recognition of his ability and devotion to the arts. In December 2007, he was chosen by the Salon National des Beaux-Arts de France to represent the Canadian delegation at the Carousel of the Louvre Museum in Paris.


Enlightened Reflections

No matter the circumstances, Humberto says he would never give less than his all to his artistic career. “There are not enough hours in the day to achieve one’s potential as an artist if we have another occupation. I have been devoting myself to my craft full time since 1994 and in that time I have created over 4,000 paintings and countless drawings, sculptures and photographs.” For those starting out, he says the most important things are courage, perseverance, strength of will, audacity, humility and hard work.

Believing that his art is a reflection of his unique life experiences, Humberto acknowledges his travels are a great source of inspiration. “Leaving one’s daily routine to embrace the unknown nurtures my spirit and stimulates my curiosity. New ideas form as if by magic and rejuvenate my art, which to me is a vital part of the creative process. Openness on the world also contributes to an artistic expression that is more universal.”

On a technical level, his engaging style is recognizable by the way it captures the light. He explains, “Light allows an artist to turn a lie into reality. Employing simple gestures, I try to create parcels of eternity under the foundation of a pictorial language that are in perfect harmony with the beat of my heart and the feeling in my soul.”

Humberto’s paintings explore abstract concepts and widely divergent subjects. To begin, he prepares preliminary sketches to define the creative challenge. From that point, he finds it difficult to describe his creative process, for he often follows different paths to reach new horizons. “The blank canvas possesses a sort of magic,” he states. “Like the explorer who searches for a passage to India but discovers America, the artist sometimes sets out in search of one vision but discovers another along the way. The canvas sometimes gives us an unexpected gift. One must be attentive, know when to put the brush down, learn how to think like a child, examine things through different angles. One must educate our spirit, our eyes and our hand to create beautiful things.”

During his career, he has experimented with most mediums but Humberto always comes back to acrylic, which allows him to explore light better. He also does a lot of photography and some sculpture. Although preferring to paint from life experience, he enjoys taking on commissions – the challenge of creating something out of someone else’s vision. It gives him the chance to diversify and resist falling into predictable patterns. The artist’s work can be found in private and corporate collections around the world and he is represented by many of the best galleries.