Juan Uslé

Juan Uslé has gathered his recent pictorial work under the title “Bisiesto” (“Bissextile”), insisting on the continuity of his artistic direction, which is all the more difficult to maintain in a fragmented and discontinuous world like our own. All the questions concerning the validity of painting and its practice continue to hound him. The survival of painting helps him prove to himself that, through painting itself, he has broadened his cognitive universe. For him, the defense of painting assumes an incessant reflection on the pictorial act because its strength depends on this gesture. Uslé contemplates the canvas as a space where freedom is put to the test: it is the great void before he places himself, knowing that it demands his performance. The result is unforeseeable because the artist’s initial intention is transformed; fear gives way to the abyss, and the previously neutral space is territorialized. Through practice, Uslé would like to achieve the maximum intensity possible, using painting as a model instrument. But he will not sacrifice the persecution of randomness that drives him to discovery.

Influenced by the environs of his birthplace and the place where he lived until his move to New York in 1987, the landscape has intervened decisively in his pictorial vision: temperature, surface irregularities, meteorological variations, barometric pressure, and the sometimes opaque air. His paintings turn to the natural world without imitating it, merely observing and studying its mutations, cycles, and directions that remain absorbed in abstraction. It is obvious that, in the constitutive process of pictorial figuration, the artist does not want to simulate, but rather to produce hermetic images that exclude any extrapictorial reference. Uslé is not interested in a narrative character which may be attributed to him, but rather in the essence of color and form itself .

Where does color end and form begin? Or does color never exist in itself, but as the form of things? Color, in its different meanings, is the visible world’s reason. As such, any reasoning proceeds to show that color alone is the product of light, being inconceivable in darkness. But this does not discard the possibility of contemplating color as if it were able to generate itself. The opaque reds, liquid blues, vegetable greens, warm yellows, grays, and blacks, so frequent in his work, like the hard white line, seem to be extracted from the nature closest to him. The Atlantic cold, the humidity of persistent rain, the northern light of the Spanish Peninsula on the sea, the countryside, the mountains, barely hinted at through color, can be touched, in his paintings, with a glance. He does not want a label of “Romantic” or “Neo-Romantic” attached to his work. The technique he employs, oil, pigment, and vinyl paint on canvas, allows him to give a peculiar treatment to his paintings: material and liquid, opaque and transparent at the same time. His titles allow us to detect some hint toward interpretation. In Lleno de palabras (Full of words, 1991), these last words are articulated in the blue with the brown of the background, like water and land, with a twilight-red mollusk and a white grating that separates us from the contemplated object, making it unattainable. In Niquel (Nickel, 1991) a blue-black-mud sea reproduces the undulating motion of the waves, appearing to be many things at once; and in Cuarenta lunas (Forty moons, 1991) horizontality and verticality geometrically arrange the concept of space subjected to lunar activity. Nevertheless, for Uslé, pictorial practice as an exercise in understanding is more important than redefining painting or abstraction itself.

Menene Gras Balaguer

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.