New York

Raymundo Sesma

Kerr Gallery

Amid a continuing glut of apocalyptic shrieking—or merely lurid brushwork—by nth-generation expressionists, Raymundo Sesma’s paintings are immediately appealing if only for their subduedness. With their subtle tonalities, finely veined or mottled surfaces, and merger of naturalistic and nonobjective forms, the works’ presence is a reserved one. Inevitably, although seemingly without a dialectical intention, they serve as a counterpoint to the louder personalities of current painting. Yet the artist, a native of Chaitas, Mexico, and a resident of Milan, does acknowledge his works’ spirit by titling the series "Paintings of Silence.”

Sesma’s “silence” suggests an emphasis on pure visibility—an absorption with the look of the work—and in-deed those material qualities have been invested with great care. The dry, roughened surfaces suggest variously the short, choppy strokes of stucco on bungalows or the rugged fissures of ancient rock walls. With their “outgrowths” of thin, crusty ridges of paint they allude more specifically to cave paintings, with which they share dark contour lines and soft, brushy color. But central to the impact of Sesma’s imagery is the unification of drawing, painting, and surface; rather than manifesting a figure-ground relationship, the images seem to have “grown” in intriguing natural shapes. Moreover, Sesma’s colors—warm gold-to-rose hues—resemble those produced not by firelight in subterranean caverns but rather by the suffusion of sunlight in the two countries with which he is associated.

The sensation of observing an infinitely slow—and silent—evolution of natural forms is only the initial effect of Sesma’s expressive surfaces. His works do speak to the contemporary sensibility, radiating a compressed energy that sustains interest beyond their look.

Sesma frequently generates tension by juxtaposing geometric and organic forms. In Sketches of the Imagination, 1985, a shape loosely resembling a ram is intersected by a large square that partially covers the central image; these opposing elements play out a desire for the natural to break out of, or gain release from, the geometric, and metaphorically allude to the interplay of intuitive and logical thinking. Another work with a sense of upward flight and release is Island of Fire, 1985, in which repeated irregular zigzags could suggest feathers, licks of flame, trees, or mountain crags. This interpretative ambiguity is a matter not of vagueness but of the unnecessity of assigning a single identity to the image: despite the fact that it is open to numerous interpretations, the image, with its warm neutrals playing off darker contour lines, works.

The presentation of abstractions with this degree of subtlety and restraint could be construed as signaling a conservative move; more likely, it acknowledges a place for gracefulness, and for imagery demanding contemplative scrutiny.

Suzaan Boettger