A brief commentary in regard to my work
Russian philosopher Lev Vygotsky (1971) states that “Art is the social technique of emotion, a tool of society which brings the most intimate and personal aspects of our being into the circle of life” (pg. 249). The 21st-century artist, in this exercise of publicly disclosing the interior of our being, could also, in some cases, evidence the existential void, lack of social commitment or visual research. The piece then could become a banal, decorative expression, empty of meaning. Society, however, is waiting for each intellectual component to assume the responsibility of helping to understand and improve our reality.
In my work, basing myself on art history, I intend to present social concerns that disturb or excite me enough to move me to “do.” The resulting work, within its own visual language, makes statements with an educational value as its interpretation prompts the viewer to reflect about everyday social matters. After all, art pieces are inevitably personal constructions entrenched in a particular social context (Dewey, 2005), in my case, the Academic-Caribbean.
The paintings presented herein began as small-format pieces (28″ x 22″) in 2003, which I called “Portraits.” Some represented an incomprehensible human figure, reflecting my attempt to understand who the human being is according to history. Other works from the same series were a sort of snapshot of a scene depicting the same concern. Equally clouded in their own way, they both reflected an enigma and incomprehension regarding the topic. Later, after years of reading and producing new pieces in a larger format (48″ X 60″), that same concern is still present, hence, the title Paradoxes in counterpoint. The new work of art is built with clearer symbols and metaphors, incorporating new enigmatic characters. This proposal as a whole is a portrait of that fleeting moment that triggers a particular memory.
Some of these symbols emerge intentionally at the time of creating the piece, yet most do not. In the process of creating and finishing a piece, once the symbolism, characters, and settings are created, the work itself surprises me and challenges me intellectually to interpret it, in a similar way as the viewer. This occurs because, although I approach the canvas with some ideas, the process elicits forms which are foreign to my rational comprehension. Therefore, even though it might seem paradoxical, when viewers observe the piece and comment on it, they help the artist to understand it. This new proposal constitutes visual essays with multiple readings, which reflect a sharper and more defined opinion about the human being: his or her character and existence. In more recent paintings, our social and political contexts as an “island” are also explored.
It is characterized, at first reading, by strong strokes, simple drawings, the use of sculptural forms, the handling of the composition, and, particularly, the application of bright colors. The content reflects art history as a referent in its symbols and titles.
The piece, in general, leads to a catharsis through the use of familiar shapes near anachronistic elements. In it, the viewer may appreciate an intellectual game created by the contradiction posed by the use of “naive” shapes—some new, others stylized—which are at times laden with a certain humor and an intense, vibrant color palate in the usage of profound and tense topics. In this sense, the pieces evoke competing feelings and affections in the context of a particular visual language, always grounded in art history. This visual proposal elicits the aesthetic problem of the tension between shape and content.
A last comment about the style
From a very young age, I have felt drawn to the expressive force of color, gestural strokes, and distortion of shape of the existentialist German expressionist school with a particular attention to Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). Still, I prefer the artwork of Viennese modernist expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), French fauvist expressionist Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Jewish/Russian surrealist expressionist Marc Chagall, and Mexican David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974). However, I feel particularly comfortable with the Italian transavantgarde. Particularly, I enjoy the paintings of Enzo Cucchi (1949-), Mimmo Paladino (1948-), and Sandro Chia (1946-).
I must stress that under no circumstance I have worried about explaining my work in light of a particular school or movement. That had no importance. It makes no sense whatsoever to paint in order to satisfy a particular style or combination of styles, I paint only “to do what I feel that I must do.” Although at exhibitions, someone always asks me about the style, I have never known what to answer and still I do not know.
Some people would suggest that my art is surrealist, which is an opinion that I have never shared, since my paintings, unlike surrealism, is not oneiric: they are statements drawn from my immediate reality and expressed in full consciousness, even though I might not understand the meaning of some of the elements present in my work. In fact, I have never felt the appeal of the surrealist or neo-surrealist school: “it doesn’t call to me.” Nevertheless, we know that school classifications have a certain subjective element, since one artist’s works may be assigned to different schools.
Recently, a colleague from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Andrés Batista, in the presentation of his book Tratado teórico del dibujo de formas imaginarias [Theoretical Treatise on Drawing Imaginary Shapes] included among his acknowledgements the following comment: “To my artist and technologist friend, Luis M. de Jesús Berríos, who has the ability to stand in awe before discovery, transforming him into a powerful interpreter of neo-symbolism” (pg. 4). Although we had talked for years about various philosophical issues related to the visual arts, we had never conversed about my style. This expression by a sincere and knowledgeable colleague motivated me to turn again to art history and ask myself a question that, for some reason, I had postponed: What schools are reflected in my work?
French symbolism from the late 18th century is not a school that has particularly attracted me, I “feel” that it is melancholic and at times strange. However, I must admit that, after a certain analysis, I agree with Batista in that there are indeed common elements between both pieces, but there are also elements that belong to the Italian transavantgarde.
My work, similar to symbolist painting, is a reaction to contemporary positivism and materialism, in regard to the emphasis on science and matter as the sole perspective to value, appreciate, and explain life. Likewise, I address other contemporary issues, such as technology and history. I seek a synthesis through the use of symbols and metaphors, in a poetic manner, to attempt to understand reality; after all, “to exist is to understand” (Martin Heidegger 1889-1976). In Odilon Redon’s (1840-1916) paintings, as in James Ensor’s (1860-1949), humor occasionally surfaces, a resource that I appreciate. Symbolist paintings are not pieces that are conventionally displayed, their content is dense. I have had a similar difficulty when displaying my own work: because it is not light or beautiful. In effect, it is dense.
I wish to state that, when I paint, it is not my intention to create snapshots, symbols, or metaphors; I simply paint what I “feel.” I regularly begin with a simple mental image about something that I observe and that pleases me, such as our typical little “sato” dog or mutts, or something that I see and disturbs me like an act of aggression. From there arises spontaneously, a formally dressed character with his face covered with a paper bag. Then I transfer this simple mental image to a sketch with expressive black lines on whatever type of paper that I have within reach at the time. The subject matter emerges from the piece itself and inevitably the resulting ensemble surprises me.
It seems to me that my work has a very particular hermeneutic dimension. In other words, it does not pretend to reveal what is hidden, given that it presents a visible reality, which it announces and denounces. Finally, for some reason, I attempt to make reality understandable for myself. Symbolists like Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) approached spirituality, mainly based in Greek mythology; however, I am grounded in the Judeo-Christian faith. Symbolist paintings at times resort to fantastical or morbid themes, whereas I rather tend to avoid them in my work. Despite the intensity of the topics addressed, I “perceptively smooth” them through the use of color, humor, and shape distortion.
In summary, the resulting painting, unplanned in stylistic terms and which I have been working on for the past ten years, is closer to neo-symbolism in its intention, although it is markedly transavantgarde in its “factura” [forms] with elements such as the expressive force of color, gesture strokes, shape distortion, and its roots in history.
This last comment is somewhat academic, given that, in the end, every piece comprises shapes that constitute symbols, which in turn form metaphors. These symbols may be less obvious, such as a paint stain, or more evident, such as an object. Similarly, they may be intentional or unintentional. Thus, every piece is essentially symbolic, as it is developed by a human being framed in a historical context. This explains my transition from older proposals titled Símbolos y metáforas [Symbols and Metaphors] to a new, more specific proposal, Paradoxes in counterpoint as snapshots of “psychological landscapes”*, to signify “recorded scenes and fleeting moments.”
- Batista, A. (2013). Tratado teórico del dibujo de formas imaginarias. San Juan: Libélula Rosa.
- Dewey, J. (2005). Art as experience. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group.
- Gardner, H. (1982). Art, mind, and brain: A cognitive approach to creativity. New York: Basic Books.
- Pérez Ruiz, J. (2013). Una mirada del crítico de arte. Revista Pedagogía, 45(1), 174-175.
- Kandinsky, W. (1970). La gramática de la creación. Barcelona: Ediciones Paidós.
- Vygotsky, L. (1971). The psychology of art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
*The term “psychological landscapes” was taken from Dr. José Pérez Ruiz (Pérez Ruiz, 2013) in reference to my work.