José Balmes was born in 1927 in the town of Montesquiu in Catalonia, where he spent his childhood until the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. Three years later, after the Nationalist victory, Balmes with his family was forced to leave Spain due to the militancy of his father, Damià Balmes, who was mayor of the town for the Republican Left of Catalonia.
Along with Gracia Barrios and other artists, he would form the informalist group Signo, with whom he would present works in Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris.
Of known communist militancy, and having been for several periods a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee, a large part of Balmes' career was linked to political life, actively supporting the Popular Unity government led by Salvador Allende, and having to leave for exile in France after the 1973 coup d'état.There he continued developing his artistic career as a professor at Pantheon-Sorbonne University.In 1986, Balmes returned to Chile, after which he received multiple awards, such as the 1999 National Prize for Plastic Arts and the 2002 Altazor.
In 2012 the Chilean filmmaker Pablo Trujillo Novoa shot a documentary about the life of the artist entitled Balmes: El doble exilio de la pintura (Balmes: Painting's Double Exile).Wikipedia