Fabio Mesa: Painter of Multitudes
By Raisa Clavijo
During the month of April, Zadok Gallery in Wynwood is presenting an exhibition of the Latin American artist Fabio Mesa. The exhibition includes large-format paintings and sculptures, the fruit of this author’s most recent creative efforts.
Throughout his career, Mesa has explored the theme of the multitude as an entity whose strength lies precisely in its collective conscience. “I am attracted by crowds, since I am fascinated by the presence of so many lives in one place, actively going from one place to another, walking, running, protesting, working, laughing,” he says.
Mesa has been working on this theme since the 1990s, shortly after he graduated from the Instituto de Bellas Artes in Medellin, Colombia, where he began studying drawing and painting at the age of 14. “My career as a professional artist started as soon as I left the Bellas Artes. I started searching for a theme that would excite me, that would be different and original,” he notes. “I felt that I wanted to do something different, which would identify me with my era. I thought about what I had lived through and remembered my time at school. At that time, I was very anti-establishment and very involved in social activism. That is how I developed the principal theme for my work. In the beginning, I was inspired by marches and protests against the Colombian government during the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century. Later on, I began to conceptually focus on peace as the message in my work.” Since then, Mesa’s multitudes have become “peace marches” for human progress. The artist comments, “In my work, crowds march toward common goals, which revolve around dreams that we human beings share as a society: the search for peace, the struggle for a better life.”
Mesa’s oeuvre has been nourished by Impressionism, German Expressionism, American Abstract Expressionism and Informalism. In a recent interview, he said that in his scenes of multitudes there is an imprint that channels the legacy of Monet, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, Munch and Saura. An analysis of his pieces reaffirms to me that his work has been inspired by this legacy, but it also undeniably reminds me of some of the early works of the Valencian, Juan Genovés, another passionate defender of that latent force in human multitudes, who was able to capture in his oeuvre the painful period in Spain during the transition from the Franco era to democracy.
From a formal standpoint, Mesa’s works outline a structure in which the human mass is the center of the composition. In some pieces, his approach is more Impressionist, concentrating on the general features of the figures that he captures with gestural strokes that in some paintings become more textured, expressive and energetic. In other paintings, the figures become more realistic, with softer strokes and beautiful chiaroscuro. Sometimes the crowd covers the entire surface of the canvas; at other times, the artist re-creates the surroundings and city architecture that frame the scene.
In his works, the artistic presence of chromatic material is so vigorous that it becomes embossed upon being displayed on the naked canvas, generating physical forms that appear real. In this way, the painter is able to make the relationship between the icon and the material appears like a bas-relief of expressive visual force.
In recent years, Mesa has incorporated artificial light into his pieces. This developed by chance when he placed some paintings near a balcony and natural light from outside penetrated the canvases. It was then he realized that it gave the scenes a three-dimensional quality. From that moment on, artificial light became prevalent in his work and is manipulated to create a wide variety of effects.
In 2011, as a result of an exhibition in Miami, he started using Plexiglas sheets as support for his paintings. What started as an experimental exercise opened a new universe of possibilities to him. He was able to add to his oeuvre two-dimensional pieces in which figures cleanly drawn on the background acquired depth when light was projected on them. It also allowed him to go beyond the limits of painting and expand into sculpture. His small- and medium-format sculptures are made up of various sheets of Plexiglas, each one with a different scene painted on it and displayed as if they were various planes in another larger scene. Mesa adds artificial light to these works, giving them a distinctive appeal. These pieces have been very well received by American collectors.
Mesa’s works do not re-create precise scenes; instead, they are anonymous snapshots of the past and present, snapshots that at times remind me of the scenes of multitudes in some of Eisenstein’s movies. This intentional lack of allusion to specific references allows the viewer to construct his own interpretation of the piece, starting with an open narrative structure, which allows him to recall his own memories and experiences.
Visitors to Zadok Gallery can enjoy a selection of pieces from his Migraciones series, which functions as a dramatic testimony of our time. Mesa captures in this series the tragic reality that millions of people in the world face every day-people who have been forced to migrate to other territories, to abandon their homeland in search of a better life or escape from dictatorships, social uncertainty and violence. These works are populated by multitudes who walk carrying their hopes and dreams as their only belongings.
Mesa’s works have been extensively exhibited in his native country, as well as in the United Arab Emirates, Spain and the United States. Since 2007, his work has been presented in New York and Miami, where it has received very good reviews. Following the Zadok Gallery exposition, he will have another solo show at Galeria Arte Actual in Bogota before preparing for international shows in Barcelona and China.
In this exhibition, Fabio Mesa presents us with a collection of works resulting from a combination of talent, sensibility and technical skills. This new portfolio clearly demonstrates his commitment to the social reality in which he lives.
“Fabio Mesa: Recent Works” is on view at Zadok Gallery through May 2012.
2534 North Miami Avenue. Miami, FL 33127. Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Phone 305-438-3737 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.zadokgallery.com
Raisa Clavijo is a curator and art critic. She is the editor of ARTPULSE and ARTDISTRICTS magazines.