New York

Roberto Juarez

Robert Miller Gallery

Most of Roberto Juarez’s large, lushly painted abstractions of vegetative abundance evoke an earthy fertility. Some, with which Juarez seems to have been more intimately connected, also project a more profound sense of fecundity, and the artist’s robust assurance in his own creative—and procreative—powers. These vital compositions appear to have emerged from what Lewis Hyde has called the “gifted state,” in which “the imagination has the power to assemble the elements of our experience into coherent, lively wholes: Juarez’s pictures especially recall Hyde’s syntheses because Hyde views the creative imagination as a ”gift“ and an ”emanation of Eros." He relates the creative spirit to the life-force of the libido: neither is lost or exhausted in use, but in their reciprocal nature they are replenished by being expressed. Similarly, Juarez’s imagery also displays an identification with the continuum between erotic and creative strengths.

Some of these radiant jumbles of painterly patches, suggestive of flowers or foliage, fruit or vegetables, could be simply enjoyed for their sensuous beauty. In Three Mushrooms, 1986, the overlay of bold organic shapes and the tonal subtleties of charcoal, chocolate, forest green, and dusty pink have all the grace of a fabric of gorgeous silk. Juarez plays with the allure of textiles and patterns by sometimes adhering terry-doth towels directly to a canvas for a plush, tactile effect, or checked paper towels to surfaces to conflate the Modernist grid with the weaver’s warp and woof. In others, he seeks control by imposing a geometric structure, an irregular checkerboard plane penetrated by organic volumes.

All this visual play, however, is trivial in comparison to the works’ metaphorical effects: the simply beautiful becomes simple-minded without the recognition of the mushroom form as a repeated motif. It dominates Three Mushrooms, of course, and the thick trunk—more than a stem—and broad cap of the fungus is the sole focus of the vertical Three Days, 1986. In Egg Fountain, 1986, a large mushroom with an alate cap is juxtaposed with signs of fruitfulness such as eggs and a tuliplike fountain, which in turn echoes the upward thrust of the mushroom. Obviously, the form bears phallic connotations, but it would vulgarize both Juarez’s images and his creative process to conclude that these paintings are about macho prowess. Rather, the shape suggests the artist’s identification with a surging élan vital.

Juarez demonstrates the organic, holistic aspect of this life-force most clearly in Applepeppers, 1986. In the middle is a group of half a dozen green peppers, which recall the mushrooms in their similar elongation, charcoal crosshatching, and compositional prominence. They hang from a vine that rises from two blood-red apples, Eve’s totem, one at each lower corner; the vine connects the forms like a stem, but it also suggests umbilical cords running from tumescent bellies, or the engorged nipples of lactating breasts. The triad is closed at the bottom by the curving edge of the tabletop. Juarez directly unites the masculine forms of the peppers with female generative powers; the peppers themselves could also be taken as pendulous udders. Even the title’s merging of words connotes an integrative perception.

In his use of elements of nature to portray an idyllic unity, Juarez looks back to such early-20th-century painters as Franz Marc and Henri Matisse. What’s remarkable, in contrast to prevalent late-20th-century demonstrations of image depletion, is not only Juarez’s affiliation with natural forces, but also his belief in the power of art to communicate them, and in his own ability to find motifs to convey personal concerns within them. In doing so, Juarez’s gift—in Hyde’s sense—is a fulfilling experience of organic and creative powers.

Suzaan Boettger