13.02 – 22.03.2014
CARLOS DONJUAN MARTA SESANA – On the Border
curated by Luca Beatrice
Antonio Colombo is proud to present On the Border, the double solo show by Marta Sesana and Carlos Donjuan, curated by Luca Beatrice. A very special exhibition that focuses on at least two key concepts: painting and the border zone, the affinity between the recent works of the American artist Carlos Donjuan and the Italian artist Marta Sesana. Works that take form in rather distant places, with different geographies, temperatures and sensibilities, yet convey a shared atmosphere, the idea of coming to grips with the contemporary image, trying to respond to a relatively urgent question for art today: is it still possible to produce figurative painting that is in step with the times, bringing something new while remaining firmly rooted in the cultural tradition of representation?
Carlos Donjuan, speaking of his work, explains that is poetics is partially composed of his own ego, adrenalin, competition, the street, and the curiosity to look around in pursuit of a new project. Born in Mexico in 1982, he studied at the University of Texas in San Antonio, and has worked as a teacher of painting and drawing. He has had many shows in Texas and California, and this is his first in Europe. His works draw on the poetics of Graffiti and Street Art (he has created many murals for public spaces), but not in the common sense of work rooted in the 1980s, focusing instead on one of the many genetic mutations this art genre has undergone over the decades. His world is inhabited by characters and situations that come from close observation of everyday reality, immediately shifted into a dreamlike and at times paradoxical universe.
Absorbed by color and a cartoonish style, Donjuan creates surreal, storybook portraits. His figures usually have no facial features, or wear masks concealing the enigma of the personality. Though he feeds on the culture of the places closest to him, on the borderline between North America and the hottest Latin component, we can find erudite echoes in his painting, reminders of the surrealism of Alberto Savinio and the little monsters of Philip Guston in the latter part of his career.
Marta Sesana was born in Merate in 1981. She lives and works in Milan, in a very small flat, where she overcomes space issues with imagination and perseverance. She studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, but lived for many years outside the city. In the book Eccellenti pittori Camillo Langone has described her as a “sorceress of the third dimension” because of her depth of field, since “prior to painting she makes a model of what is to be depicted, with wire, newsprint and modeling clay.” In her new paintings green is the nearly absolute dominant hue, a color that tames the instinctive approach of perception and permits deeper analysis of what lies below. Figures and characters emerge from enchanted forests and magical copses. But we would be mistaken were we to attempt to label Marta as a fantasy artist, in spite of her clear interest in space-time suspension and the monstrous yet moving faces of her figures. Among her points of reference, she willingly mentions Alessandro Pessoli, Dana Schutz and Syd Barrett, for the hallucinatory atmospheres of his pieces with the early Pink Floyd. It is worth noting the titles of her paintings, such as “La Bora” which refers to the famous wind in Trieste, or “Forest,” a complex triptych connected with the song of the same title by The Cure. After the exhibition in the “Little Circus” project space, Marta Sesana returns to Galleria Antonio Colombo for her second solo show.
Marta Sesana was born in 1981 in Merate. She lives and works in Milan.
Solo shows include “La Festa Della Luna”, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, “Cupio Dissolvi” curated by Stefano Castelli, Studio d’Arte Cannaviello, Milan (2009), and “Piazza d’uomo”, Nur Gallery, Milan (2011).
Selected group shows: “11° Premio Cairo” Museo della Permanente, Milan (2010), “Go with the Flow” cur. Alberto Mattia Martini, VIlla Bottini (Lu) (2012), “Something Else” cur. Roberto Fantoni, Antonio Colombo Arte Contemporanea, Milan (2012).
Carlos Donjuan was born in 1982 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He lives and works in Dallas, Texas.
In 2013 New American Paintings listed him among the 12 most interesting artists of the year.
Selected solo shows include: “Let Me Be Your Favorite Nightmare”, Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Dallas, Texas (2014), “Remove Your Veil”, HCG Gallery, Dallas, Texas (2010), “Tierra Nueva”, UTSA Satellite Space, San Antonio, Texas (2009), “The Ghetto Bird”, Gallery West, University of Texas at Arlington (2004).
Selected group shows: 2013 “CrossSection”, HMAAC, Houston, Texas; 2012 “Richland College Faculty Art Show”, Brazos Gallery, Richardson, Texas, “Art and Advocacy”, F.I.G. Gallery, Dallas, Texas, “Serie Project”, Latino Cultural Center, Dallas, Texas, “Sesame Street Show”, KNOWN Gallery, Los Angeles, California; 2011 “Rest In Power”, Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas, “Odyssey”, Brick Building, Culver City, California, “HEIR Today, Gone Tomorrow”, Mexican American Cultural Center, Austin, Texas, “Infinite Mirror”, Syracuse University Art Galleries, New York; 2010 “Something Good”, West 30th, Brooklyn, New York, “Predictions”, Brick Building, Culver City, California.
On the Border
by Luca Beatrice
I’m out on the border, I’m walkin’ the line
Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order
I’m try’n’ to change this water to wine.
The Eagles, On the Border, 1974
Writing about painting today is like hanging out on the border, and the question is not just one of space or geography. Instead, it has to do with a mindset. We have asked ourselves many times, in different circumstances, how effective it can be to reutilize a language that has been practiced for so long in history, a language many people think is unsuitable to represent the tension of the present. And if we are talking about paintings with images, or what is simplistically referred to as “figurative,” the question gets even more complicated, because there is no clarity about what has the right to be included in the self-styled system of contemporary art, and what instead is fated to lurk at its edges, even at the risk of total banishment.
From the 1990s to the start of the new decade, for example, the logic of the white background held sway, for a synthetic kind of painting that was far from generous, which through a strategy of renunciation, and a certain taste for constipation, tried to self-conceptualize and self-legitimize. Then came the moment of mixing & remixing between realism and abstraction, in a mass of figures and signs, deprived of a center. Finally came the dusting off of many “lesser practices,” starting with illustration and comics, in a tangle of more or less decipherable citations that undoubtedly helped to resuscitate an at times worn-out genre. This led to the rise of different movements, especially in the United States, surging from an underground and gradually finding their way into museums. Nevertheless, as often happens, the most interesting stimuli arrive from borderline situations that have yet to be completely systematized, still untamed and with certain features of ingenuousness, perhaps representing the physical location in which research is still possible.
This is precisely why we are presenting the work of Carlos Donjuan and Marta Sesana, here, together. He is Texan, but a native of Mexico, while she is from Lombardy, with a studio in Milan. They are practically the same age (born in 1982 and 1981). Their differences are more evident than their resemblances, but they both narrate their own world and their own obsessions, formed in equal measure by isolation from and contact with their surroundings. Donjuan, for example, in a recent interview for the magazine Juxtapoz, says he has often felt like an alien, and that in the faces and appearance of the people who live in his neighborhood, starting with his own friends and family, he sees extraterrestrials or in any case people extraneous to the common, standardizing sentiments of global reality.
Donjuan’s figures without faces or protected by masks that conceal their identity are reminders, by antithesis, of the work done at the start of the 1980s by John Ahearn in some of the worst parts of the Bronx. Regarding the sculptures that adorned the outside walls of buildings, casts of busts or entire figures of black and Puerto Rican people, Francesca Alinovi wrote: “the effect, the result, is completely new. Not just because the gathered human specimens, arranged in a regular sequence on the wall, all have dark skin and convey an explosive racial force, but also because those masks, freely manipulated by the artist yet at the same time very faithful to the originals, seem to be surprised, as in a snapshot, at the magical point of contact, or of separation, between death and life.”
Donjuan is a virtuoso of painting and drawing, a colorist gifted with indubitable talent, capable of imagining complex worlds involving many languages that are extraneous to painting itself. His works feed on the poetics of Graffiti and Street Art, and he has created mural works in public urban spaces, taking the genetic mutations of this artistic genre over the decades into account, now covering many techniques that were not a part of this current when it began in the 1980s. His world is inhabited by characters and situations that come from sharp observation of everyday reality, immediately shifted into a dream universe, at times with paradoxical aspects. Donjuan’s portraits have a surreal, fairytale spirit. Though drawing on the culture of the places closest to him, on the borderline between North America and the warmest Latin component, we can also hear erudite echoes in this painting, with compositions that remind us Italians of the surrealism of Alberto Savinio, while lovers of American art cannot help but be reminded of the little monsters of Philip Guston, in the last phase of his career, when he returned to the world of comics from which he came, getting beyond the period of Abstract Expressionism.
While in America, in any case, it is possible to move inside a rather fluid system that ranges through experiences that are also quite different from those of the mainstream, in Italy people working on figurative painting are often banished to a limbo on the border between so-called “high art,” the stuff of museums, and genres contaminated by other less “noble” languages. In spite of the inevitable frustration that can grow inside those who insist on practicing this type of art without any protection, a number of young talents have emerged who deserve attention, as well as a chance to mature and to show the results of their research.
One of them is Marta Sesana, born in Merate and trained at the Brera Fine Arts Academy in Milan. She lives and works in Milan in a very small apartment (but Francis Bacon was also accustomed to making masterpieces in a space of just a few square meters), which she shares with another very good painter, Marco Mazzoni: she resolves space problems by working with imagination and tenacity. In the book Eccellenti pittori, Camillo Langone explains that in Sesana’s case, once again, we can see the magical ritual of pure painting: “Painters still exist, in fact today they exist more than ever, numerous and fertile on all continents: evidently painting triggers something intimate and impossible to uproot, something born into the person.”
The perceptive writer for the newspapers Foglio and Giornale has spoken of Sesana as a “magician of the third dimension,” because she has a depth of field brought about because “prior to painting, she makes a small model of what she wants to depict with wire, newsprint and modeling clay.” In her new works made for this show green is the practically absolute dominant tone, a color that reflects an instinctive approach to perception and permits deeper analysis of what is taking place below the surface. It is a phantasmagorical world, full of inventions and surprises. We see figures and characters emerging from enchanted forests and magical woods. But it would be a mistake to classify Marta as a fantasy artist, though she does have a clear taste for space-time suspension, and the monstrous yet tender faces of her characters remind us of those of Tolkien. She probably wouldn’t cite The Lord of the Rings and those other novels that have formed a genre condemned by official criticism, even for absurd ideological reasons. Instead, among her points of reference she prefers to mention contemporary artists like Alessandro Pessoli and Dana Schutz. As well as the music of Syd Barrett, the hallucinated atmospheres of his compositions with the early Pink Floyd, or the darkness of the Cure, from which she says she took the title of The Forest, a complex triptych that references the song of the same title by the band of Robert Smith, and is probably her closest approach to the status of masterpiece.