The origins of
Po_otoreto owes its name and legacy to the work of Giuseppe Pootoreto, an artist who, almost in absolute secrecy took the art of portrait representation to new, unexplored heights.
Born in 1891 in Tausia, a small town in the Northern Italian province of Udine, Giuseppe was the son of Masaku Pootoreto —an exiled Japanese artist who had to leave his country due to his unorthodox Shintoist practices—, and Ruth Vita, a brave Italian dressmaker who will later take part in the Partisan resistance.
Little Giuseppe was an only child; Ruth and Masaku would often find him wandering about nearby woods and mountains, absorbed in the contemplation of nature and its recurrent cycles. Influenced by the delicate sensitivity of his silent father and urged by his mother’s vitality, Giuseppe start developing a deep creative intuition that soon began to take the shape of beautiful artistic objects. Attentive to his son’s natural artistic inclinations and attitude of profound contemplation, both Masaku and Ruth chose to send him off to Vienna to study the art of portrait with the famous artist Maximilian Franz Viktor Zdenko Marie Kurzweil.
Giuseppe settles in Vienna aged 17 and begins studying Art with Kurzweil, practicing without a break, jumping from drawing to painting, disciplines that he came to master quickly; thus his painting skills soon surpassed his teacher’s. His talent and sensitivity in capturing the essence of people portrayed and transfer it taintlessly to the canvas was eventually a cause of great rivalry with Kurzweil and, after a series of misunderstandings, Giuseppe leaves his teacher to settle in his own studio. Pootoreto splits his time between his day job at a toy factory to earn a living and his own art, to which he devotes every night. In just a few years, his study becomes an essential meeting point of Vienna’s bohemian and academic milieux. His vivid portraits —in which he continuously worked for long periods of time— used to be compared to the mysterious portraits found in gothic literature and, soon enough, his own circle of friends starts referring to his oeuvre as “the living portraits”.
Amidst the select group of characters that often surrounded Pootoreto was Vienna’s small yet thriving Psychoanalytic group, led by Sigmund Freud. It is well known that Pootoreto and Freud used to hold long conversations about the one issue that interested them the most: the human psyche. These long talks provided Pootoreto with new theoretical and practical tools with which to deal with his portraits. It is known that, before accepting a new commission, he carried out several “sessions” during which —instead of making sketches or outlines —a common practice to his art—, he interviewed his models and talked in depth with them about what their childhood memories were or what recurring obsessions or dreams did they have.
After several years of non-stop doing, his art strengthens and acquires a new shape, in which all of these paths converge: the preliminary and very important abilities acquired during his training period with Kurzweil and his skills as a toy maker. The main characteristics that will make his oeuvre different from anything else are its corporeality and movement. It is estimated that, by 1926, his production is almost entirely tridimensional; living portraits turn into articulated, polychromatic figures able to be dressed up, brushed and handled. While it is nonetheless true that in Japan —a culture that was in its blood— dolls played a very important role in adult society, this was not the case in Europe or the Western world, where dolls were an exclusive domain and redoubt of children. The type of interaction between the collector or observer and the objet d’art that Pootoreto had in mind was absolutely unheard of at the time and very well received by his followers.
This period of maturity is interrupted in 1938 as a result of the so-called Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany. Pootoreto flees from Vienna and boards a ship to Argentina, where he will eventually settle in the vast industrial strip North of Buenos Aires Metro area. There, beneath the surface of a discrete upholstery repair shop he would continue, though from time to time and quite secretly, with his artistic production. Pootoreto dies in 1981 from kidney failure at the age of 92.
Regrettably there are but just a few records of Giuseppe Pootoreto’s work and little is known about the fate of his creations. Much of it is thought to have been destroyed by Pootoreto himself after leaving Vienna. The figures he created back then were largely made using flammable materials such as wood and wax, and only small fragments were found. The main source of information we count on now are the extensive amount of letters he exchanged with his mother and a sketchbook of his articulated portraits, containing detailed marginal notes on the personality of whoever was being portrayed. In these documents, Pootoreto explains his passion for “giving shape to what the face conceals beneath”.