Nothing like a Summer Storm, 2010, oil paint, acrylic paint, spray paint, plastic bags, fabric, glitter and color pencil on canvas, 48″x60″
Wavering between figuration and abstraction, Sebastian Vallejo’s paintings are precise but expressive exercises in light, form and color. In them, bright colors collide with defined forms and structures that, combined with a mixed media approach provide an engaging visual experience that rests in conflicting polarities.
It is perhaps the oppositional elements present in the works, figuration/abstraction, light/dark, chaos/order, that afford Vallejo’s paintings with a dynamic energy reminiscent of Rayonism and the New York school of Figurative Expressionism, best exemplified by Willem de Koonig’s Woman I (1950-1952).
Mikhail Larionov, Blue Rayonism, [Image via Rollins.edu]
Jardín Galáctico II, 2010, oil paint, spray paint, fabric, plastic bag and glitter on canvas, 40″x34″
Vallejo’s first solo show in Puerto Rico at METRO:plataformaorganizada gathers a group of paintings produced in Chicago and New York that provides a broad landscape of the artist’s aesthetic language. According to the artist, his paintings are influenced by the light of Puerto Rico, which seems to radiate “from almost any direction, sometimes even from the ground.” Pure light, as Newton’s experiments with the prism reveal, is responsible for color and all of its various constituents. This specific fact was the basis for the development of Rayonism, a Russian avant-garde movement founded by Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Gonsharova, that aimed to ‘liberate’ color and form. It was not a purely abstract movement, as it included some figuration, but what is important to underscore in this particular discussion is the way these artists attempted to trace and visually express the ray of light and transpose it to the canvas. In Vallejo’s case, we can clearly see the importance of the physical radiation of light in paintings such as Nothing like a Summer Storm (2010) and Morning Mist (2010). Yet what seems interesting about Vallejo’s practice is the way that he integrates and incorporates oppositional systems into his work that visually collide with each other. Parting from an abstract/figurative language, the works also display organized/chaotic systems, delicate organic forms together with ‘hard-edge’ elements. Vallejo’s mixed-media technique, incorporating spray paint, plastic bags, fabric and t-shirts, significantly furthers the sense of dynamism explicitly expressed in his paintings.
Bushwick’s Rooftop, 2011, transferred spray paint and plastic bags on canvas, 60″x48″
The oppositional and dichotomised systems present in Vallejo’s works are perhaps best defined by his immediate background. Born in Puerto Rico, Vallejo relocated to Chicago where he went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago to study painting. Shortly after graduating, Vallejo moved to New York City where he currently works in his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. And although Vallejo’s palette has remained rather constant, influenced by the colors of the Caribbean (his earlier paintings being more explosive and bold), recent paintings have witnessed changes in color use and technique. Bushwick’s Rooftop (2011) for instance employs a darker palette and a different technique; spray paint transferred on canvas.
Although Vallejo’s work seemingly mocks the tropicalized vision of the Caribbean, it is much more complex than that. Nature is indeed a constant in his work, but we can also sense a deep understanding of the artificial; another opposing structure that expands upon the dialectic of Vallejo’s work; a visually dynamic experience of clashing methods and networks.
Images via Sebastián Vallejo
1 De Koonig’s painting Woman 1 baffled critics due to the figurative nature of the work, resisting any strict classification as a purely Abstract Expressionist work.
2 Myers, Terry R. Exhibition catalogue essay.