Essay by Jeffrey Ryan former contributor to Frieze Magazine
A Journey in Paint
Travelers all know the sweet disorienting feeling of being dropped in a new city, and the joy of discovering it. Many of us cling to our maps in hand, guidebooks and hints from those who have come before us. But it is when we put the map away, that the place begins to reveal its charms. We have to look up, and begin to use the landmarks around to orient ourselves. Where is the sun? Check. That cathedral I passed on my right? Check. The river must be near as I can smell the briny air – there it is. In just a few days, this place, which at first was so alien, can begin to feel as if it is our new town. So too with painting: every blank canvas dumps the artist (most likely near a train station), allowing them to figure their way around. Filling up that blank space is similar to learning a place. Buildings take on meaning, signs – even if in another language – become another crumb leading us out of our new urban labyrinth.
We start with nothing much, and before long, we have more than we ever thought. In Fabian Lopez’s paintings, he began with simple premises of filling up canvases with color and form. Paint grew into structures, structures into cities. But at their core – they are just armatures for painting. The beauty of painting is that is doesn’t need much excuse to get going. Walls, roof, with some sky? More than enough. More than enough in the right hands would be more appropriate. We look at these works like the travelers in town – we don’t know what their purpose might be, and we don’t really know where we are. But the artist is kind enough to give us plenty to look at – skies of blues, grays, and pinks, grounds the same save the occasional verdant carpet.
With all the images bombarding our retinas daily, only painting allows us the time to slow down and the luxury of ambiguity to let us determine what we are seeing. Because it is in this alchemy of painting – where a box can become a house, a pile of shanties can become a city, and these in turn can morph right back into abstraction. Like the traveler wandering about a city, built up over the ancient bones and buildings, we viewers of paintings forge our way towards meaning.The bedrock of painting, like the foundation of a city, is built up of those who care enough to stick around; the paintings that effect us, mixing with the lives we lead; and the things we see, in our eyes and heads. Where these paintings are going we know not, but this journey in paint is what counts. Enjoy the ride.
I generate ideas for my work through an autobiographical perspective that intersects literature, oral history, concepts of memory, and notions of the other. I’m interested in using and reimagining themes that convey narratives associated with location, told within a space between nonfiction and fiction. For example, Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast many years after his stay in Paris, basing the novel on recollections and not confirmed facts or other people’s point of view. My paintings function in this regard, at the intersection of fabricated narratives based on physical experiences within a place through recalling memories that transpose time and space.
When looking to the past, one often assumes how things have taken place. The structure of memory selection and how this system acts to benefit the individual occupy my thoughts. When Ernest Hemingway wrote A Movable Feast, it was written many years after his experiences in Paris, France. Hemingway wrote the novel based on what he remembered, not giving direct facts nor other people’s points of view, rather Hemingway recalls in his writings a vague perception which benefited his autobiographical story.
As a kid I would listen to my parents recount their origins in Mexico. The way they retold their stories was descriptive and celebratory. Storytelling naturally became influential upon me as a person and as a painter. Telling and receiving stories performs the same function as the process of drawing and painting does. Stories and painting, replaces words with pictures, allowing me to re-interpret vague but specific visuals of the narrative being told. This narrative allows me to gain access to places, persons, or moments that I have not experienced firsthand and connects them with personal experiences. Other highly influential sources of narratives vary from documentations of western history, literature and imagery, epic periodic movies, comic books and music. These subjects within their own right connect moments of the past with present associations through the narrative structure.
Although my paintings and drawings are not complete stories, rather the interest in creating semi fictional narratives through vignettes and documentations of stories and places within my work is to recount, compare, and then contrast my experiences within multiple locations and destinations which have similarities to one another. This in turn develops the ideas of memory selection as Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast” and theories based on “remote viewing” in linking multiple cities to act as one place through the medium and the individual.
As the eighth child out of twelve, growing up in a large family in which resources were limited was the way of life. There were too many of us kids in the family that my parents couldn’t keep track of us all. A television became a substitute for a babysitter as it does with all large families. The house was never empty and always crowded to maximum capacity leaving no room for privacy. Drawing became a necessity and an entrance point into a world of imagination and exploration. Further, with Spanish being the primary language at home and the influences of both my parents that came from Mexico and my older siblings, who embraced popular American culture in their love of music, this provided me with a rich bilingual and bi culture framework.
My current body of work focuses on manipulating abstract elements to function as representation. By appropriating images from traditional paintings and by using formal elements like color, shape, and different treatments of space, I attempt to transform abstract images into representation in their own right. The idea of using abstraction more as the subject rather than (just) the image has challenged me in my most recent work.