Eduardo Consuegra: A conversation with the artist about his work
Geoff Tuck to Eduardo Consuegra:
I visited your show at Richard Telles Fine Art this week. Sorry we couldn’t meet up – this week and next are pretty packed for me.
I really like the matte-board pieces in the Martel space! They reinforce the time-play that you began with the ad pieces in the front, and they offer me space for reflection (in a Modernist, monochrome way) as counterpoint to the humorous pop/camp of your sculptures, paintings and ad collages.
Your interest in time is apparent: the ads from your youth in Colombia make me think of those aspirational moments we have when we glean information not from content that was directed at us but sideways, in ads and in random ancillary passages from articles. It’s the age when one searches, well, sometimes for life’s meaning and sometimes just for informed taste (this last might be a queer thing…) Aah, but back to time: you paste these found ads on prepared linen and then paint another photographic ad from another time, these might be still-life and set piece photos by a commercial artist from back in the day and, curiously enough, were signed by him in a strange nod to potential art-hood. These paintings of yours resemble portraits, and your making of them places your own presence between the original and me. I read in the press release that you consider the found photos to be evidence of a history you did not have – and it is you in the present who is crafting them as counterpoints to the past you clip from magazines. It’s as though you are reassuring yourself that you have assimilated (achieved?) your past aspirations.
To me, the matte-board pieces play similarly with time and with culture. As part of a frame or display, Matte-board is meant to preserve physically and highlight aesthetically a work of art – by dipping it into carefully color-matched paint you capture this moment of idealization but you also negate it. The matte-board itself becomes the material of art, the board and the effect upon it of time. At the moment of its making, or dipping, the time on each side is equal – as the piece ages the paint on one side will seem to hold the clock still, while the unpainted matte-board will fade. This part is evident immediately – what snuck up on me while I thought about the show is the inverse relationship of painting/interpretation/
What can you tell me about the 320 oz (5 gallons) sculpture? (I think I have the title correct.) Is that a gas can? A paint can? Either way it could be an incendiary device. Of course it is pink because of the material, but did you choose the material because of its pinkness? Isn’t there something nelly about the sculpture?
How do the paintings relate to the works on paper you showed me over the summer? I recall a Rorschach-type method of making, and erasure, and they felt to me like a striving toward freedom and away from over-determination. Are the paintings in this show also working toward a sort of freedom?
The large daybed sculpture (Melting Point, 2012) looks like a fainting couch for a particularly fierce mid-century modern queen, and as a surrogate it burns symbolically with a contained fire. This sculpture is also an inversion: the white wax base resembles memory foam of a mattress, and the slightly askew Brazilian Tiger Wood (is that on purpose? Tiger Woods?) is on top. I chuckled when I saw that the brass space heater has an erect cord. It sticks straight out horizontally in an unlikely reference to a, well – to a hopeful, searching dick.
Eduardo to Geoff:
I think it is really interesting that you are having such a queer reading of the work. When I make the work I’m not that conscious of it, but I do see it operating as a subtext. The oppositions, or complementary oppositions that you are seeing in the two different types of paintings, the collage and the matte-board works, in my opinion exist throughout the whole exhibition: painting vs. collage, clipping vs. rendering, representation vs. abstraction, casting vs. carving; these begin as pairings and develop into a more complex structure where the works are in dialog with each other and they examine their own existence through the tension that they bear on each other. Ultimately, the ambiguity that they generate does seem to me very queer.
You mentioned at the beginning of your questions to me how the magazine clips make you think of those aspirational moments when one is searching for meaning, a sense of place in ones youth; the material that informs these aspirations is not directed at you necessarily but comes from articles and advertising. In contrast, the rendered images of commercial “found” photographs coexist in the same grid, but the time it takes to render the image suggests a slower assimilation, in comparison with the immediate recognition or static qualities of the magazine pages. In the next paragraph you mention how my painting of them brings my presence between the original and you, the viewer, and it is me who is forging or reassuring that my past aspirations have been assimilated in the present. The era of these images is not quite the era of my childhood; it is the one that came before me, complicating the issue of assimilation. Since I didn’t dream about these places but they were dreamt before, by a previous generation, my understanding of them is very subjective, inaccurate and a product of my imagination; alluding to the idea that memory is slippery and plays tricks with our minds.
On the other hand, the brown collages deal with images that do correspond to an era that I recognize as my own. The brown-waxed butcher paper, slightly bigger than the gray background, gets folded twice in order to fit in the frame. The result of these folds is a non-Euclidian geometry that holds the images in its folds; in most cases these images are a combination of a North American advertisement and a South American one.
In reverse opposition to the matte-board paintings, the double images of the collage paintings remain static and hold their place, even if the time that it requires to accomplish the image and to read the images is so different; their juxtaposition remains as my present understanding of this past, an attempt to apprehend meaning, while the matte-board paintings suggest an impossibility of achieving an interpretation, as the matching colors of the matte-board and the house paint slips away through the decomposition and the aging of the material.
The abstract paintings do have a relationship to the alcohol marker drawings that you saw in my studio over the summer. Even though I use markers, or – in the case of the new work – oil paint, the approach that I have to the making has a relationship to photo-mechanical processes. I use a large format brush which allows me less control over the amount of paint that it is applied to the canvas; the idea is to do only one pass, similar to the way a printer works. Then I go back two more times, rectify the straight lines that encapsulate the strokes that resemble the light of a scanner or the light of a broken Xerox machine, X-rays etc. As Max (Maslansky, Gallery Assistant at Richard Telles Fine Art and author of the press release for Consuegra’s exhibition Re:Present.) mentions in the press release, there is an accumulation of energy, a surplus of energy that builds up from the rendering, matching and calibration of images; it gets liberated somehow in these paintings. The final result is not absolute chaos but more the effects of an uncalibrated machine, a machine that is showing stress.
I blushed when I read your interpretation of Melting Point, I didn’t know that my work could be so sexually charged. I do think that there is an eroticism in the piece, but I feel so sexually repressed when I read what you wrote.
I usually like to have a sculptural element in the shows because the physicality of the three-dimensional is very good for creating tension. In Melting Point, as in past sculptures, I’m very concerned with equilibrium and balance. The space heater has been cast in bronze, losing its functionality and becoming an artistic stand-in for warmth. Symbolically, it threatens to melt the wax, but this will never really happen because the heater has lost its capability to do so. The bench/daybed does invite the viewer to contemplate the possibility of having a little moment of reflection with the heater, plus the bucket (320 oz 5 gallons) is close by, and as you said, it could be an incendiary device that initiates the fire that the heater has been deprived of. As made objects, the heater is cast and the bucket is carved, and this forms a triangulation with the bench, which is neither; a similar system occurs between the flat works. In regards to the cord in the back of the heater, I purposefully left it suspended, in this way trying to avoid any trompe l’oeil effect, I was possibly unconscious of its erectness. The pink of the bucket is slightly intentional, it is made of insulation foam, and as the material comes in baby blue and pink, I see an inversion going on here as well.
I’m curious about the non-Euclidean Geometry of the folded waxed brown paper. If we create ourselves from and by responding to (sometimes random) things around us, reference points that include, as you point out, advertisements and articles published before we were born (is this an effort on our part to consume, or synthesize our parents?), objects of fashion, and so on, then it makes sense to me that you might represent this non-rational behavior/method of development by encapsulating your memories in non-Euclidean space.
I’m glad you sent the image of the mirror/memory piece (Untitled (memory foam on ice)). I remember seeing this sculpture, or one like it – maybe in your first show at Telles? At the time I found it to be funny, the object looks so high-style, so hard and modern and so luxe that I could only hope that its tongue was in its cheek; and so it was. The mirror in art is a material which seems full of meaning, and which functionally offers to vain consumers an opportunity to admire themselves, yet in Untitled (memory foam on ice) all I recall seeing reflected was the gallery floor and, when I got enough distance, some bits of the architecture. Although the mirror sat on the floor (or because), not even my feet were offered to me, and this totally frustrated my desire to be grounded in the piece, and also my desire to see myself. The memory foam is splooged across the mirror box, or bed, in a useless fold – a shape which it can’t forget because it cannot be moved, and this voids its magical, memory properties, and its use as a high tech solution to comfort.
I can see that your use of beautiful materials continues in this new show, as do your references to a Modernist design aesthetic. Is there another reason you chose to include this image in our discussion? Perhaps to remind me that humor is present also in the new work? It could be that my own sexualized reading of this new work is of humor turned on.
Also, I wonder of the stress and the tension between possibility and immovability in the memory foam: are the two similar in your mind? Not an absolute chaos you say, but more the “effects of an uncalibrated machine that is showing stress” – this could describe my life, and yours, right? Nice phrase.
I find it quite interesting to think about the coexistence of two subsequent generations, especially at the time when the younger one is in its developing stage. The consumption of culture by the latter generation in this particular moment could be seen as a response, an attempt to consume, synthesize and diverge from the former one of its parents.
In my opinion this response is not entirely a rational departure, it is more a combination of conscious and unconscious decisions, adjustments through a synthesis/action dynamic and sorting out of different source materials in a search for answers and change. Among other things, advertising plays an important role in this synthesis and sorting out, advertisements provide enough speculative potential for renewal; the ingenious nature of the medium, in combination with the proposition of novelty, propel a surplus of transformative energy that it is so large at the time that it won’t be consumed in its entirety. As the relevance and currency of the products advertised fade away and become obsolete, that surplus gets liberated from its core; without its speculative power, the dreams of a previous generation get exposed as propositions that once had transformative capabilities, but the cultural afterlife of which indicate that the potential has not been realized.
This observation of materials from the past in the present is an exercise in recollection. Since I am the subject observing two eras that pertain to me, but that I didn’t experience in the same way, the approach that I have to the material varies. In the collage paintings, what I’m looking at was experienced by me through my parents, yet I was not present to have a connection to what was being proposed. The advertising used in the brown paper collages is fully recognizable: I was there as the subject. The products, the texture of the paper, the colors, and the compositions were and are speaking at me directly; I am involved in these propositions and they influence my understanding of the world. In this way, the work using my parent’s past is more an examination than a revision of my own experience; regardless of the variable distances required to negotiate these complexities, there is a sense in both cases that meaning is slipping away, either because I am too far away or too close.
A non-Euclidean space might be the correct intersection where the missed-encounter of the two generations occurs. The recognition of behaviors and traits of a generation to which one does not belong, the observation of publicity from that time, and the overly familiar identification with material that belongs to one’s own generation, which engenders a sentiment so strong that it impairs rationalization of its content: these things speak to me of a space were the curvature of the lines could meet at some point and a settling would occur. In the meantime the non-rational understanding keeps the memories floating around in circles.
Your interpretation of the memory foam piece makes me think of it as a visual metaphor for what I have been talking about. The modernist language of the form, its use of the mirror, and its use of high-style design, enforce a restrictive structure that is then canceled or negated by the addition of the memory foam on top. The paradox of this memory foam, as you mentioned, is that it is incapable of recording any memories because it can’t be utilized as malleable foam. At the same time it doesn’t forget its fold because it cannot be moved. The tension that emerges from the possibility and immovability of the foam – in addition to frustrating your desire to ground yourself in the piece, as the mirrors avoid you instead of you avoiding them – reverberates as meaning slips away through refractions and temporary indentations that restitute soon after. All this running away, negating the possibility of a resolution, missing the encounter doesn’t come without a price. After all, there is no perfect crime. I like to think of energy built-up from this traumatic process as stress that has to be released in some way or another. Since most of these materials are mediated through machines, screens, or publications, there would always be a machine that is uncalibrated and showing stress, sending out periodical reports that register the nuances of this neurosis.
Eduardo Consuegra, Re:Present, Richard Telles Fine Art, September/October 2012