Continuing through February 25, 2012
Flavio Garciandia’s current paintings are equal parts de Kooning, Twombly, and Cuba. That’s de Kooning’s pink and green abstractions from the 1940s. And late Twombly works like "Blooming, A Scattering of Blossoms" from 2007, where red scribbles are spread over an even creamy ground. And the sparkling, water-brightened light of the artist’s native Havana. It’s a tasty mix: sweet without being saccharin; deep and rich, without becoming obscure. And it’s an elegant art historical stew.
Garciandia creates these delicious works with thin layers of acrylic on panels of aluminum and – sometimes – sprinkles of gold glitter. The images shuttle between biomorphic smudges that resemble laboratory smears on specimen slides and smooth, clean rectilinear geometry. The tension between these two modalities is articulated by fragile painted lines. The lines can appear drawn (remember those curving, almost etched lines in the de Koonings?) or splattered (like a Twombly).
Garciandia is aware that people often say he was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists. His response is quintessentially postmodern: “Those artists were believers, whereas I’m just quoting.” And, like the postmodernist he is, Garciandia scrambles his eclectic sources: His New York debut exhibition (2001) included paintings with titles like "I Insulted Brice Maren in Havana (Twice)" and "The Delicate Dispute Between the Estate of Mark Rothko and Marlborough Gallery." His last exhibition in Los Angeles (2004) was titled "I Insulted John Baldessari in ... Havana." In addition to references to the California conceptualist, the show included allusion to preeminent Op artist Bridget Riley. "Riley’s Cha Cha Cha" is a horizontal stripe painting with a line of black and white drops down the right side, drops that resemble nothing so much as bird poop. There was also a six-panel painting in variations of green and pink titled "Poco Picabia," a nod to the Cuban-French Dada provocateur. Garciandia admits, “I pay tribute to and insult my masters in the same work; I can’t help it.”
A major figure of postmodern Cuban art, Garciandia taught several of the current Havana superstars. He was also a founder of the Havana Biennial in 1984. The painter is very aware of his role in the Cuban community: In 2006, Garciandia invited 158 Cuban artists to contribute to "Pinnacle or Decline," a 20-meter-long painting of vertical stripes installed at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Each participant selected a color from a fixed palette, then came to the museum to paint their contribution to the composition. Those artists who were no longer resident in Havana contributed via the Internet, directing Garciandia in the color selection and the execution of their stripe.
All the intellectual underpinnings and art historical references aside, Garciandia is a painter’s painter. “I am basically a painter, despite all my concerns with the conceptual aspects of the work – the little shadow, every detail is important for me, even the edges.” This is patently obvious in the current work. Even as they echo mid-century precedents, they are adamantly about creative presence: the artist’s daily encounter with the movement of pigment over a flat surface.
And the results of that encounter are gorgeous. Nuanced tangerine fields, subtle pink bars, splashes of turquoise or lavender: These are candy colors but applied with such lyrical verve that they attract and intrigue, never overstating their case. Serious paintings indeed, they are also visual delights.