About Construcciones geométricas and Construcciones modulares by Darío Escobar, 2012-2020
The Construcciones geométricas (Geometric Constructions) series by Darío Escobar can be seen as a collection of pieces that focuses to a large degree on an investigation on painting. Begun in 2012, these works examine the geometric abstraction of the second half of the 20th century taking as a starting point the boxes of the vehicles commonly known as redila trucks. These frames are frequently painted in different ways, sometimes with linear designs in the manner of bands of color. This type of decoration gives a certain specificity to an industrially produced cargo transport and is common in different Latin American countries —such as Guatemala and Mexico. With their clearly delimited color bands and energetic designs that play with horizontal and diagonal lines, these painted boxes resonate with a type of geometric abstraction that had pronounced visibility on an international level from the 1950s, although its origin dates from the first half of the last century.
Keeping in mind this historical geometric abstraction, the term construction in the title of Escobar's series could be linked in the first place to the notion of structure which was popular among various artists around the world during the 1950s and ‘60s. Frank Stella was one of the proponents of this term concerning painting, which his irregular or industrially produced canvases reflect. From the early 1950s, Stella embarked on this type of formal exploration focused on what he called structure and in opposition to the traditional canvas. The artist saw in this a process of production of the surface that could both advance his research in the field of painting and refer to the material world of things. Series V (1964-1965) is emblematic of this: on the one hand, its radical originality led the pictorial practice to a closer dialogue with three-dimensionality and spatiality, while the designs of the pieces were associated with specific referents, such as the shape of a letter (1).
Escobar's Construcciones geométricas can also be seen under the structure concept. Real doors of the redila trucks, or part of their boxes, were not used in most pieces from the series, but the surfaces were built like structures following its principles. Undoubtedly, they are evocative of a specific referent (a "painted thing" as Stella would say) but they also complicate the pictorial solutions that each work presents. The plural in solutions deserves to be noted. By using the hinge system found in truck frames, the artist achieves a changing piece that can be configured in different ways. Construcción geométrica No. 5 (2014), for example, is a large work with several folding modules that can be opened, closed or moved to transform the geometric design on the surfaces. At times, the movement seems to suggest the outline of a landscape constantly changing, as does the cut-out line on baseball bats in Noctural Landscape (2009) —a landscape reluctant to statism. In Construcción geométrica No. 6 (2014), the play of surfaces and hinges makes a red triangle unfold into its inverse form when manipulated. These manipulable elements and their constant transformation emphasize the dynamism implicit in the geometric and linear designs on the pieces.
This principle of transformation and change in several works from the Construcciones geométricas series goes beyond the notion of structure involved in Stella's painting. Although the investigation on painting is central to Escobar’s series, his interests are not limited to this field. Conceived as transformable or modifiable structures and therefore designed for physical interaction with an audience or public, Construcciones geométricas also reflect about another type of artistic practice from the 1950s and ’60s: manipulable objects and sculptures. As is known, Latin American artists such as Lygia Clark, Jesús Rafael Soto or Julio Le Parc carried out this type of work that sought to destabilize certain traditional conceptions around the work of art while, at the same time, appealed to a new relationship with the viewer, more active and of greater incidence in daily life. As Alma Ruiz pointed out, since 2009 Escobar's work has shown a growing interest in these type of issues that seek to make the relationship between the viewer and the work of art more complex within a given spatial situation (2).
Beyond the theme of structure, this series by Darío Escobar could also be related to other aspects of the pictorial solutions involved in some of Stella's pieces from the aforementioned decades: the use of industrial paints for their workmanship, the emphasis on diagonals’ dynamism, the use of a vibrant or "aggressive" palette, as well as the idea that an object is not equivalent to something static. Another key reference to discuss Construcciones geométricas concerning painting is Margarita Azurdia. During the sixties, this outstanding multidisciplinary artist from Guatemala made her Abstracciones geométricas series under a solution of well-defined bands and fields of color. Her work could be linked to Stella's Moroccan series (1964-1965) and, thus, point to geometric abstraction as a style of continental if not international scope, conceptualized in different ways and seeking different ends. Just as the Stella series starts from a reflection on Arab mosaics, Abstracciones geométricas approaches Mayan textiles through "shapes-colors”: a precise structural and chromatic order that makes the painting vibrate (3). In this way the artist reconciled geometric abstraction with perceptual art, also common during those years. The rhombus, as a regular figure, is predominant in her series. Escobar seems to recognize Azurdia's formal legacy and the way in which she managed to link this quadrilateral in discussions of international scope by including it in his work, as in Construcción geométrica No. 2 (2012) (4)
Artists such as Azurdia in Guatemala, Mathias Goeritz, or Eduardo Terrazas in Mexico, revisited traditional or indigenous art under a modern aesthetic consciousness to produce works that update some of its formal principles through perceptual, kinetic or field solutions from geometric abstraction. The investigation of local references in Escobar's works is of other nature. In his case, what seems to interest him and to be underlined is the presence of a broad, shared aesthetic sense expressed in a more or less intuitive or unschooled way, in the type of design executed on redila boxes as well as on countless other material surfaces and everyday objects, such as house facades, throughout Latin America. This question is open to speculation. The ubiquity and reiteration of these geometric shapes and solutions might refer to the survival and relevance of certain symbolic archetypes, which are found in a more defined way and retain clearer meanings in certain textiles that inspired the work of artists such as Azurdia or Goeritz in the 20th century. However, today they seem to be found in other registers of the most diverse nature, and their original meaning has been transformed. This condition could have been nurtured by a shared visual mass culture that has been in operation for many decades. Thus, for instance, the shape of the rhombus can be modified by extending the length of a pair of its sides, breaking its regularity. Its new appearance may be more reminiscent of a diamond, with a design that depicts it as such and has its own meanings. Through this research, Escobar presents a proposal for geometric abstraction that originates from the attention to a non-specialized practice, in contrast to the strongly rationalized processes that define much of the intellectual legacy of this type of painting in Europe and the United States throughout the 20th century. As the artist mentions, “an abstraction that begins from intuition and not as a strongly intellectualized response”(5). With this, at the same time, he raises a question about what kind of solutions are recognized or have been legitimated institutionally as valid forms of geometric abstraction and which ones are not.
The project Sometimes Things Work for the Wrong Reasons presents a couple of pieces belonging to Construcciones geométricas and several examples from the Construcciones modulares series, which began in 2016. This more recent series is distinguished from the first one in its articulation employing modules as the title suggests. While in Construcciones geométricas there is unity in the structure, the pieces of Construcciones modulares are made up of different parts, two or more modules. This type of assembly emphasizes the irregularity of the works, as happens with Construcción modular No. 26 (2019)—another work that evokes Azurdia’s production. This irregularity of the "canvas", so to speak, relates to Stella's work. Its construction based on modules also recalls the American artist's pronounced interest in achieving a new, radical relationship between painting and architecture (6). Without a doubt, Escobar has used several of the Construcciones modulares that are presented in this exhibition to delve into pictorial interests and, thus, place this project as one dedicated in a decisive way to painting. Proof of this is a couple of works that bring geometric shapes closer to the monochrome terrain: Construcción modular No. 32 and, mainly, piece number 34 (2021).
Escobar also includes in this project the pieces Construcción geométrica No. 17 and Construcción geométrica No. 18 (2021), which are substantially distinguished from the rest of the two series discussed in the sense that they represent a (double) return to the object. First of all, they represent a return to the artist's early production focused on the making of everyday-looking objects. In Escobar's practice, the appropriate or found object is almost nonexistent. Construcción geométrica No. 17 and 18 were not part of the box of a redila truck, with a certain history, brands or material features, but they do relate to this referent in a concrete way. They could practically be functional on a vehicle. This is an evidence of Escobar's interest in everyday life, its aesthetic objects or events, and of the central role they play in defining his work. In this case, they are the sample of the starting point of the series presented. This pair of pieces reinforces what Rosina Cazalli said about the artist's relationship with the world of things: "the quid is to recognize them in daily life and the ability to propose new orders of use”(7). On the other hand, this return to the object is also manifested in the incorporation of a sculptural work to this series through Construcción geométrica No. 18. This three-dimensional piece, however, is indissoluble from painting. It is not only sculpture but also a kind of transportable mural or painting-sculpture, as it is said in modern jargon. The dialogue that he establishes with the pictorial solutions from some works of Construcciones geométricas and modulares is not limited to the application of a design on the surfaces of the sculpture. It is also presented in formal terms. Construcción geométrica no. 18 reiterates the artist's interest in the presence of the diagonal and the lags, and how they mark breaks, emphasize irregularity and evoke dynamism.
Finally, as part of Sometimes Things Work for the Wrong Reasons, it was decided to include a piece from the Crash series (started in 2009) consisting of crashed car fenders that are chrome plated by the artist. This application can place this series, to some extent, in the field of the pictorial art, although it is a set of three-dimensional objects with a sculptural purpose. These damaged auto parts are the exception of the object in Escobar's production. However, their new chrome surface transforms them making them look new and shiny. The particular history of each piece is blurred to some degree. Crash XXI (2019) was placed in the reception area next to the two Construcciones modulares that have a solution closer to a monochromatic surface, with wide and regular black squares. Without seeking to have a full impact on the whole of the exhibition in the space of the gallery, the encounter of the chrome sculpture with the pair of paintings allows establishing certain connections between these two Escobar series that are diametrically different only in appearance. In addition to the mentioned pictorial considerations, the artist’s interest in the global flows of objects, cultural goods or images from the beginning of his career should be mentioned. In this sense, the pieces in question refer to two moments within a circulation circuit. One related to the movement and constant displacement of countless goods (which travel in the redila type of truck) and another that represents the unpredictable failures, events and accidents that remember to us the fragility of structures that are generally perceived as infallible and inexorable.
Art critic and curator
1. Michael Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank / “”Materiality and Gesture Make Space”. En Auping (ed.) Frank Stella. A Retrospective, New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2015, pp. 18-22
2. Alma Ruíz, “Donde la material se une al mito”. En Rosa Olivares (ed.) Darío Escobar. Ensayos dispersos. Madrid, EXIT, 2019. p. 97-98
3. Margarita Azurdia utiliza el término “formas-colores” en el texto del catálogo de su obra para la X Bienal de Sao Paolo, firmado como Margot Fanjul: “Margot Fanjul – Guatemala, átomo, tríptico, tótem, persona, lotus” (1969). Impreso en Margarita Azurdia. Todo es una. Guatemala: Milagro de amor, 2020. p 28 https://issuu.com/ximenachapero/docs/margarita_azurdia
4. Alma Ruíz, “Entrevista con Darío Escobar”. En Darío Escobar. Ensayos dispersos p. 114
5. Laura A. L. Wellen, “Incorrect Grammar. Conversations with Darío Escobar”. En Dario escobar. The Life of the Object, Seattle: Lucia / Marquand, 2017, p., 158
6. En una serie sin titular más reciente, iniciada en el 2018, Escobar avanza de manera pronunciada esta investigación entre pintura, arquitectura y situación espacial.
7. Rosina Cazali, “Fin´amors, por los objetos”, En Darío Escobar. Ensayos dispersos p. 31