Paintings For A White Cube
Stumbling upon a Room
“Who’s afraid of the Grid?” asked visual artist Michelle Pérez in her 2020 solo exhibition of the same name. More than a reference to Barnett Newman’s final opus, it was her own challenge to the notion of painting and towards common perceptions of abstraction. Her current choice of medium — elastomeric paint — actually is the latest point in a journey she has had through enamel, ceramic, acrylic, and even photography. From portraiture onto the abstract image, the evolution was unforeseen, but the possibilities, thousand-fold.
Taking off from Ellsworth Kelly’s “Painting for a White Wall,” Pérez expands the notion of art object-art space relationship into a grander scale by appropriating the synergy of the works with each other — with each and every element of the space — into an overall exhibition design. Kelly himself sees this gesture as artworks not existing in isolation from each other, nor them being independent from the space. Supersized iterations of her “post-it” paintings are installed in a vertical succession which brings to mind Newman’s “zip” — his signature mark on a canvas. The wall is the expanse of the canvas delineated by the paintings struck across its face. More than a form, Newman’s zip was more of shapes, and Pérez’ work is a celebration of that.
What can be considered the titular piece in the exhibition is an installation of paintings following the original scheme of Kelly’s “Painting for a White Wall” — black, pink, orange, white, and blue. The reason for this is that they were created outside the notion of Kelly’s work, rather, Pérez had made initial pieces that later on presented the serendipity.
Pérez’ grid is a visual layering of colors and textures, squares intuitively arranged to build the larger canvas — a square. In his manifesto, Kasimir Malevich declared that the square is not a subconscious form. “It is the creation of intuitive reason.” A continuing exploration of process, she had created a black square grid work — which matched a red square flux work completed with a slight tilt: together they expanded on Malevich’s older arrangement by infusing each panel with texture and flow. Each grid is a complex arrangement, layers of paint dripped, splattered, floating and swirling within. A sheet begins as larger work, that the artist takes from and cuts out smaller squares — more precisely, distilling an image by use of a grid — quite a coincidence given Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl and its affinity for grids. The tiny cube has presented itself as a versatile technique: they are experimental in straddling painting and sculpture, as well as challenging scale.
Through much of Pérez’ artistic development, discovery has always been central. Combined with her fascination with Art History, she has explored, and created works that take off from learnings from her predecessors, pushing them forward with her own techniques and style. In this set-up, her art is a room that she invites viewers to discover, to stumble upon with the same excitement and curiosity that she herself enjoys.
Kelly, Newman, Malevich, and Mondrian had one thing in common: the desire to push forward the definitions and limits of painting and abstraction. Painting remains a potent vehicle for art, as the human hand reaches further, blurring, clearing, and creating. Newman pondered: “…if we refuse to live in the abstract, how can we be creating sublime art?”* For Pérez this is the current task, and her exhibition “Paintings for a White Cube” provides a timely glimpse into her trajectory. — Koki Lxx
Body of Work
A painting can sometimes be like a mirror, one that can pin us still in front of it longer than a moment, giving us a fraught stare and makes meaningful silences heard. It reveals a vision to the viewer that is not fully understood but makes him/her realizes it speaks to and for him/her. Jan Balquin’s exhibition “Body of Works” lays down a meta reality on paintings making us submit to truths that they are merely structures of wood covered in canvases and layers of paint but consumes us with our own interpretations that supplants their facts.
Jan Balquin’s series explores the materiality of a painting, its fundamental exterior/interior and serves it as an analogue of us, exposing our own physicality and humanity. In “Skinned,” we see an image of a primed canvas as her subject, flayed from its stretcher with its sides and back presented to the viewer allowing its creases to be felt instead of hidden. The canvas’ height approximates the artist’s as it serves as Balquin’s self-portrait. “Posterior 2” is an image of a canvas displaying the framework of the canvas as if turning its back to the audience and laying bare what is normally intended to be unseen and examined. She further exploits the realness of her subject with her lightbox series of painting canvases mimicking a human body seen on an x-ray. In it, we see images of unprimed canvas with their incandescent selves, making us aware of the thinness of the cloth, their untrimmed imperfections and the brackets that holds their wholeness. Balquin’s self-referencing diptych grounds us back to the crux of the exhibition on how we see and can view a painting. One where we see an image of a painting of an improperly stretched canvas showcasing its looseness, and its sagging qualities while on the other is the referenced canvas scraped off of the paint it once had. The work gives us a picture where the cycle of the past, present and future are totally adjacent.
This exhibitions ties up unique characteristics of a work of art, one that creates illusions and one that makes us surrender to truthfulness. In presenting the triviality behind a painting, it makes us question its essence, the value or meaning it holds other than what we make of it. It makes us surrender to their being a “thing.” At the same time the images hold power on us as they mirror an existential anxiety we all share – that underneath the facade we create for ourselves, we are mere flesh and bones, insisting and persisting to see the worthwhileness in us. (Lec Cruz)
“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between them, there are doors.” ― William Blake
What exists in the space between potentials and manifestations? The natural world that we can see, touch, and feel, and the immaterial dimension where thoughts, emotions, dreams, and memories sometimes finds liminality. In fact, human imagination frequently bridges this gap as shapes and forms manifest the intangible by narrating and translating its layers. Historically, an illustration in the form of a drawing, painting, or printed work serves as a text-clarifying image, thereby navigating the potentials of interpretative transformation.
Pancho Francisco's experience as a book designer and publisher informs his work as a visual artist. His interest in books and illustrations reflects both a fascination with the internal faculties of perception in others, and an outward curiosity about the world. Francisco’s process entails leafing through naturalistic illustrations from books by physicians, anatomists, botanists, and artists from the 18th to 19th centuries including Bourgery, Jacob, and Hirschfeld, selecting parts and pages to cut and retain, reconstructing the built narrative of the images, and producing theatrical dioramas in 3-dimensional form by composing, layering, and collaging. Unlike his predecessors, this purposeful arrangement does not take a scientific approach. Francisco uses an intuitive hand in creating compositions, often manifesting surrealistic undertones while experimenting with narratives of organization in individual layers to re-frame new moments between actual-historical and imagined worlds.
Encapsulating in resin extends the gesture of preservation; it connotes an acknowledgement of time and the frailty of human action: "I can never change them," he says, "once the resin is poured and set, it cannot be changed or altered. Once an event has passed, it cannot be changed or altered." During the height of the pandemic, Francisco began collecting organic and found objects in various states of decay including branches, leaves, stones, rusted nails, and bottle caps in his afternoon walks. These objects encapsulated in resin and displayed as is carry a conceptual ambit, their evocations touching upon the existential tensions between Zen and memento mori.
It's not surprising, then, that Francisco takes a reflexive turn in a series of works in which he encapsulates the blade cutters he's used throughout his artistic history. A review of one's life's work can provide a solid foundation despite the passage of time. The artist’s oeuvre has evolved into an autocritical philosophy: "A lot of my life happens between laying out the layers." If we look beyond these layers, we may find openings where potentials and hopes await to be realized. Layers of painted clouds can be found in each of Francisco’s works. We, like clouds, are constantly in motion, changing our physical and even metaphysical conditions, adrift wherever the wind leads. All along, there are reminders that change is a given and that nothing endures indefinitely. In-betweenness, after all, is not the absence of anything, but the presence of everything. (John Alexis Balaguer)