On ViewSikkema Jenkins & Co.
October 21 – December 4, 2010
In his first solo show in New York, Jorge Queiroz throws down the gauntlet and challenges the viewer to work. With his eerie and disjointed imagery, this Berlin-based, Portuguese artist determinedly reminds us that his creations are about the act of looking, and all that entails in a post-Freudian world. It’s no easy task to confront these dark, complex and often unsettling pictures. But the reward is great—an unusual, visually stimulating experience with plenty of room for the mind to wander.
The majority of works in this moody collection are done on large pieces of paper in varied combinations of ink wash, pen, pencil, crayon, charcoal, and oil paint. Only a few small, dark canvases are paintings in the traditional sense. The others are hybrid drawing/paintings that have the random spontaneity and exploratory spirit of a sketchbook page, yet are fully resolved formally. Abstraction and figuration flow fluidly together. The clearly defined head of a Buddha-like figure sits atop a body melting into an amorphous form. A face is partially obscured by dark swirls of paint. The line of a sleeve veers up at a sharp angle, shifting into a geometric element.
Queiroz paints in a way akin to how Freud described the making of a dream. Images work like “dream thoughts,” flowing into a unified whole that does not represent actual experience but conveys a particular psychological state, the “meaning” of which is obscured. The artist trawls his subconscious, memory, and imagination and seamlessly assembles figures, landscape, and abstract forms. Something entirely new is created. Asexual human figures, or fragments thereof, appear often. Some resemble a young boy or man, raising the question of whether they are memories from childhood, self-portraits, or something else. Composition is particularly clever. A sketched landscape is enclosed in the imprint of a footprint. When a small mountain emerges from an expanse of brick-red wash (a sea of blood? a desert?), the space immediately reorganizes into a landscape.
Narratives are suggested but never quite coalesce. Why are those two heads floating in a sea of black ink? Where does that stairwell in the cave lead? Is that round figure a Buddha, referring to a search for enlightenment? Or is it a mother with a child wrapped around her torso?
The artist offers no hint as to the source of his inspiration or what these images “mean.” There are no elaborate titles full of allusion or poetry. Each work bears the same unhelpful name: “Untitled 2010.”
Freud would have had a psychoanalytical field day with these paintings. But with his catalogue of symbols now largely discredited, that approach is useless today. Inevitably, the imagery stirs one’s own memories and triggers free associations. As the artist states:
The observer is guided by an imaginative perception and by his own hypothesis about what he has just seen. The exhibition space is like a dynamic stage, on which each work stands for itself and creates relations with other works. Thus we have the post-Freudian experience of viewing art.
Queiroz digs deep into his psyche to compose beautiful visual meditations. He does not employ conceptual gimmickry or sensational imagery. Instead his work tries to establish an intimate relationship between the work and the viewer in all its messy complexity. The challenge is to let oneself be drawn in. One has to struggle against the urge to make sense of disorientating imagery, and instead allow subconscious thoughts to float to the top.
On an intellectual level, we may know that the “content” of any painting, especially abstraction, has to do with actively engaging the work. The act of viewing, and not just the act of painting, determines the content. It’s not always enough to examine the artist’s intent. It’s also sometimes necessary to resist the psychological defenses that might prevent us from looking deeply into the work, and into ourselves, for meanings that may be difficult to confront. In a way that few artists do today, Queiroz holds us accountable to this idea in a very visceral way.