New York

Jorge Tacla

Ramis Barquet

Jorge Tacla paints a political wasteland: The pathos in his series “Rubble” is rooted in a sense of political betrayal. Tacla, who is Chilean, bore witness to the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s social democratic government, Allende’s subsequent murder, and his replacement by General Augusto Pinochet, whose military dictatorship was supported by the United States. For Tacla, the events were a repeat of the Spanish Civil War—the catastrophic return of barbarism in the name of fascist dogma. The oppressive regime left Chile in ruins, morally and physically. The situation finally proved too much for Tacla, a supporter of Allende and a political activist, and in 1981 he left Santiago for New York.

But the memory of what Tacla had seen haunted him, becoming the theme of his art. Though sometimes filtered through another urban environment—the disfigured buildings in the “Rubble” paintings (2006–2008) are Middle Eastern—his subject is always, implicitly, Chile. In 1989, he traveled through the Chilean desert, making paintings that use the inhospitable environment to symbolize the spiritless place that Chile had become. The desert became the objective correlative of his feelings of being abandoned by his homeland—the homeland that had made him politically impotent, even as it raised his political consciousness (he came to feel that the Latin American left and right were equally tyrannical, and that they used revolution as an excuse for violence). In Tacla’s work, the flat, barren space of the desert also correlates directly with the negative space of the empty canvas. Over the years, he has refined his painterly stains and quintessentialized his image, “Rubble” representing the climax of this slow process. Tacla’s landscape of absence has been distilled into elegant abstract presence; ironically graceful, it is all the more morbidly—and universally—truthful.

A careful observer, Tacla notes that destroyed cities tend to look monochromatic. It is his use of this depleted palette, subtly informed by a muted luminosity, that gives the “Rubble” paintings their moody intimacy and uncanny aura. There is a hallucinatory stillness to each image, even as the desolate spaces churn with linear detail. Conspicuous flatness supports hesitant illusionism, suggesting that Tacla is a visionary modernist painter. One might say that he adds a layer of political meaning—the sketchy “figure” of the disintegrating rubble—to the field of the surface, giving it new depth by sullying it. The lines of the “dirty” image seem etched into the surface, turning it into what the psychoanalysts call a dream screen.

Purity lost its virginity long ago; why not despoil it entirely, for a more important cause than art? Tacla’s deceptively autonomous paintings are a major achievement, for they show that abstraction and politics, which have long been separate—one has only to recall Clement Greenberg’s dismissal of political activity as secondary to artistic activity to get the point—can be reconciled. It seems that Tacla has discovered the aesthetic possibilities in political actuality—that is, seen the aesthetic light in the social darkness.

Donald Kuspit