Essay by Amy Stewart, June 2013
There is much art in the world that claims to deal with the great binaries – life and death, light and dark. Arguably, every artist (and every person) engages with this discourse, as these fundamental oppositional pairings are the great basics of life, and of art. The more difficult task, though, is to address these in a way that does not strike fear into those who view the works: a task Cruz Jimenez succeeds at compellingly.
Jimenez possesses a distinctive anamorphic lens that he uses to look into the middle distance between the figure and the void. A glance back at his past work turns up lofty images of sweeping painterly colours – forever oscillating away from the overtly figurative and back to it. Jimenez is classically trained, and it is the memory of those teachings that sees him locked in the shift between the figure and abstraction. In his most recent work, he has sought the figure once again, presenting it in a way that only he can.
It is true of Jimenez’s binaries that they are never equally matched – one force always dominates over another: brightness is preferred to darkness, day favoured to night. The impulse that sees Jimenez alternatively emptying his space of forms just to populate them again in the next series sees him also countering light with dark; hollow space with form. He paints the grey area between extremes, but his palette does not lack conviction. The Victorians and Hieronymous Bosch influence Jimenez’s palette, unexpectedly and despite the thoroughly contemporary, almost galactic, feel of his imagery.
Jimenez loves black, which he understands as an inhabited mass rather than a void. Crucially, though, he counters the darkness not so much with white, though he deploys white deftly throughout all of his works, but with almost saccharine blues and pinks, shot through with brilliant yellows. Works such as More Than a Dove, More Than an Elm and Reflections of You testify to this sensitivity as they clearly vibrate, animated by Jimenez’s tantalising application of colour. These super-sweet blues and vivid pinks could be read as another binary – the colours assigned to the genders – but the reality of their application is more intuitive than that. The complimentary discussion of dark and light is not only balanced within the works, but also between them. Find One Little Bud in the room, for example, and see how it balances with its cousin Paloma.
Jimenez’s Victorian influence is not just an aesthetic one, but also one that comes from deep within his conceptual framework. He is a collector and an assembler, and the sculptural components of Bubble Boy attest to the most familiar of the Victorian whims: collecting. Midnight Cipher’s oval shape is part of this influence, as is the painted mirror, with its fantastically twee border complimented by Jimenez’s black paint. The notion of collecting and studying, which typified Victorian museums, surfaces in the repetition of figures. Jimenez’s canvases are populated with the shapes born of his study of the gesture that creates them in an endless cycle: like life and death.
Jimenez’s work is often discussed in terms of memories, particularly of childhood. Bubble Boy, an explicitly autobiographical reference to a childhood nickname, demonstrates conceptually how experience is filtered by memory. Jimenez addresses this openly in his technique whereby he paints shapes, paints over them with black, sands back the black to reveal previously painted forms, and then paints them up more. A close look at Mouthfuls of Silence will reveal so much more below the glossy surface than first meets the eye. Such is the process of remembering; of mining our mental inventories in order to glance back at our recollections. This technique creates a history in colour that expands back into the layers of paint, as well as up and down the board.
The new pill shape that has emerged with Bubble Boy brings to mind the basest of forms – amoebae or cells. The group and swirl and move toward vortices scattered around the surface of the paintings. These forms were born of Jimenez’s love of the pure, meditative gesture, and his desire to strip back his practice to the basics. Each cell is made with one unerring, almost calligraphic movement of his hand. The viewer gets a sense of the chronology of Bubble Boy as some of the later works show Jimenez exploding the strict line of the pill form and allowing the gesture to continue beyond its border. The works on paper likewise demonstrate Jimenez’s unlikely process – these seemingly organic scenes in continuous flux originated in drawings and studies.
In Bubble Boy, Jimenez returns to basics in as many ways as he can, which, paradoxically, affords these new paintings an exceptionally complex simplicity. As he consciously turns his mind and hand to the basics of painting – line, colour, and form – Jimenez strikes a chord between the forms, his focus on nature, and his concentration on the fundamentals of artistic imagery.
Jimenez sees into spaces and into things, and his visions are grounded here, in the same space as the viewer. These are not satellite images of other galaxies, though some may look like the night sky. His deft explorations of the middle distance of our everyday are anything but superficial; they are insightful and profoundly beautiful.
Nimbly fusing the whimsical and the historical (both his own history and the history of objects), Jimenez’s Bubble Boy works are proxies of his own interior ether. Jimenez’s practice is a distillation of the definition of abstraction. Ask him what he sees in his current work and he points to a branch supporting a bird – here a feather, there a tree. What the viewer sees, though, is the world distilled through Jimenez’s lens – the pulse and the hum and the glitter located just below the surface. Jimenez’s visual articulateness allows him to realise the innate composition that lays latent on each of his canvases, and he coaxes them out in vibrant, throbbing colour.
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