If we were to reduce painting to the images that we are able to identify upon a canvas, we would have to admit that Eduardo Esquivel’s recent work has undergone radical transformation.
Indeed, those diaphanous rural scenes framed within the immensity of an omnipresent Mother Earth, inhabited by characters busily engaged in the celebration of one or another ritual, in the patient fleshing out of a community mandate, or in the accomplishment of a laborious and mysterious task, seem to have been left far behind. In the current pieces, those strictly organised compositions have yielded their place to a nearly homogenous pattern, within which the spatial coordinated are blurred, figures vanish, and the gaze is left adrift in the search for a center that might contain it.
This situation is a consequence of an alteration in the artist’s endeavour. Esquivel now paints two canvases, rather than one. He then cuts them up into uniform strips and interweaves them. The paintings that serve as a point of departure aren’t very different from his best known work; the results, however, are quite diverse. Whereas the figurative was at the base of his work in the past, today his pieces exhibit a trend toward the abstract.
The sense of contained totality that invariably sprung from the bird’s eye viewpoint above the scenes, and from a centrifugal composition, now gives way to fragmentation, and to the prominence of a grid that extends across the span of the stretcher. The regularity of the pattern overrides the pictorial treatment; the thick application of oil, patiently encrusted upon the canvas, loses visibility in the face of the physical bluntness of the strips of fabric. The expressive imprint collides with the fortuitous sequences generated by the interweaving of the two canvases. The visual reading is followed by another, more reflective and conceptual. Nevertheless, of one observes in greater depth, the gap between the current production and its forerunner isn’t as marked. Where in the past the artist resorted to iconographic motifs from his home turf, now he relies upon another motif which is just as omnipresent in his native San Juan: handicrafts.
The integration of painting and weaving is a very bold bet. Not only because it confronts two disciplines of widely diverse tradition, but mainly because it promotes a dialog between two aesthetical productions that have been presented as antagonistic throughout history; the one, a ‘major’ art, the other, ‘minor’; one valued for its freedom and innovation, the other esteemed for its technical prowess and attachment to traditions and heritage… two realms that have, for centuries, remained relegated to clearly differentiated fields and endeavours; two approaches that have rarely found the occasion for a productive interrelation, or a reciprocal empowerment.
In integrating painting and craftwork, Esquivel not only stimulated dialog, but also suggests the arbitrariness of the separation. To the extent that both are manifestations rooted in culture, expressions of a people devoted to the senses and to aesthetic enjoyment, art and craftwork seem to have more arguments of unity than for discord. Throughout the most enlightened moments of Latin American art, their contact was fruitful. Indeed, many of the greatest artists of the region regularly draw upon the folk legacy in the search for both inspiration and an authentic vitality.
From this standpoint, the distance between the rural scenes and the woven paintings presents itself as less abysmal than it would appear at first sight. On some of the formal instances, it is quite the same. For example, the loss of the sense of totality is similarly relative. While it’s true that the composition doesn’t clearly postulate an organizational nucleus or center, these do not disappear, but are now implied. An intelligent and subtle management of light generates rhythms, horizons, moods, tonal concentrations and veiled perspectives…a structure that isn’t put out by the artist, once and forever. Instead, it’s the observer who must divine it , dig it up, and build it. Thus, the viewer becomes a true protagonist, whose task goes beyond mere admiration for the artistic endeavour; it involves, as , the discovery of the procedures, the scaffolding and the underpinnings that support it.
One obvious element of continuity is colour. The painted canvases retain the ochre tonalities of the older paintings, interspersed with whites, yellows and flaming reds, in turn sporadically complimented by some other occasional colours, like blue or green. However, the earth continues to be a dominant presence, an obligatory companion that links the artist to his fine arts trajectory, and to his roots.
The weakening of themes and narrative structures transfers formal attention to the surface of the canvases. In some cases, the homogeneity of the pattern, or the absence of a coalescing center underscores the relationship of the pieces with the surrounding space, endowing them with a centripetal energy. It is, perhaps, because of this that Esquivel has started to experiment with the format and dimensions of his pieces, and to think about the possibility that they might engage in dialog amongst themselves. Rhythms are now both internal and external; they promote the vibration of each piece in itself, and - at the same time - an overall synergy. Just as each piece is, in reality, the result of the combination of two canvases, this same recombining movement seems to project outward from each painting, triggering counterpoints and relationships.
In that sense, the work of Eduardo Esquivel hasn’t lost any of its projective character. The spiritual impulse of his rural scenes translates today into a peculiar vibration that only emerges out of a communion with the observer. The perception of this harmony is on the horizon of the artist’s painting; it is the access key to a serene, emotional and meditative experience.