What they say about …

Mauricio Escobar – ‘Dissolutions’

By Herbert van der Brugghen, 29-04-2019


At the age of twenty Mauricio left Colombia and went to France. In Paris he attended the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts for four years, and the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Decoratives for two years. Thereafter he continued his own research and became a free artist.

Through friends in Lille he met people of Galerie K.Art and was asked by the Colombian Ambassador to make exhibitions. Many followed during the next decades: he came in contact with the organisators of the MAC 2000 in the Grand Palais Paris. There he met the owners of Galerie Arlette Gimaray in Paris and Wim Fromans of Vromans Galerie – Gebouw Atrium in Amsterdam, by whom he was presented at Kunst Rai Amsterdam 1999-2000-2001.

I met Mauricio in 2015 when I curated a series of exhibitions for the C-Lab de Vlugt in Amsterdam. I asked him to participate in the 5th year anniversary C-Lab expo. Fifteen artists made a work about the postwar neighbourhood, at the west side of the city where C-Lab is located. In Mauricio’s work the harbour and cranes are depicted by him using the technique of pigments on canvas.

Interview april 2019:

In this year march and april you had an exhibition in ‘Dat Bolwerck’ in Zutphen. How did this opportunity occur and how has your work been selected?

Again through friends I came in contact with Vincent Peppelenbosch, the initiator of the art centre Dat Bolwerck. Already In 2015 we made a first solo show with smaller paintings and the frames I constructed at the time. For the exhibition this year I started with a global idea, adapted to the location and of course the objects should fit the space. Everything is made according to my own ideas and plans, as developed in the last years.

How about the present exhibition in the Culture Centre Waterkant in Alkmaar?

Since 2017 I shared workspace with other artists in a former office complex in Alkmaar. My paintings, made at home in Amsterdam, are in storage there – as I have no atelier since 2016. For the exhibition in the Cultural Centre Waterkant I worked eight weeks on special objects, looking for coherence with the exhibition space.

… and the Nassaukerk in Amsterdam?

The object in that church is in fact by commission. I met people of the Nassaukerk at an exhibition in Bergen October 2018 where I participated in the Kunst 10daagse in Frankenstate. A group exhibition in a big hall with forty five pieces: paintings, objects and lamps. They loved the lamps. Consequently it became a challenge to develop that concept further. The result is a big centrepiece hanging from the ceiling of the church around a classic chandelier with modern led light. The object has the form of a boat. Quite large, 8m x 5m, at the centre of the nave of the church, especially made to fit. This piece of art was inaugurated at Easter and commemorates the resurrection. Inspired by the idea: ‘new light new life’.

What makes these locations interesting? Is there great impact on your work – do you design and make installations especially for the occasion ?

Yes, sure in a lot of places. For example already twenty years ago in the Atrium WTC in Amsterdam I made tall works in the 26m high court. And shortly after that in an old granite fort in Bretagne a big lamp floating in water and other lamps suspended in trees. In that time there was a budget to do these special installations. And I had more financial freedom because I sold large paintings and some of my frames in that period.

Your work is very physical. Where do you work and can you tell more about the making of the large scale objects ?

Previously I had a large workspace in an industrial building at the Cruquiusweg in eastern Amsterdam – but the contract was not renewed because the owner could let for better prices after the last crises ended. I actually work at home in Amsterdam or at the workspace of friends in Alkmaar in a former business centre. Of course space and daylight is essential for me working on large scale and translucent objects ….

How about the character of your work – what are your roots, ideas and intentions ?

I was born in Bogota, a city 3000 m above sea level, in the middle of the impressive nature of South America. I became hypnotized – and strongly influenced – by soil, plants and animals, by colours and textures. I grew up with this passion and it is still driving me today: always concerned with figuration and materialisation.

In Colombia I was already fascinated by hard versus soft, liquids, natural pigments and the process of corrosion and dissolution. So I started to make collages, worked with rotten material and discovered oxidation – for example in Iron – which gives an impression of permanence. But I was not satisfied – could not get the process cq rigid effect in the materials under control. I wanted stability and moreover: was looking for translucency. I found it in leaves of plants and natural fabrics, nice because it finally entails in flexibility. The ability to form and reform.

The objects in the cellar in the garden in Zutphen appear to be subject to changes during the exhibition – does this evolution change your attitude towards future projects ?

Yes, I think so. The works in the cave in Zutphen were subject to a humid atmosphere without heating and because I covered them with plastic, a certain rotting took place and even mushrooms grew inside, a process of organic transformation ….. So in that case the title ‘Dissolutions’ of my work is right away visible. And sure I guess this process of transformation and the ephemerality will return in next projects.

For the opening of the exhibition in Zutphen you wrote a special poem. Is this a new way to express yourself – is it your intention to continue writing?

I have done it before in France. But then I recited myself. In Zutphen the poem was recited in French by a schoolteacher and simultaneously, verse by verse, in Dutch by the city poet. Finally the French teacher explained some of the French words emphasizing the meaning and melody of them. So the plasticity became extra clear.

Do you have plans for the near future – are you thinking of new subjects?

In the church, at the 20th of June, there will be a recital of a new poem by the same people who did so in Zutphen. And indeed, I suppose I will go on working with language in combination with new physical objects. It is evident that nature will remain my starting point. Of course in experiments concerning materialisation and location.

More info www.mauricioescobar.net The Nassaukerk is open to the public
20 April – 30 June 2019
Maurcio is regularly in both Paris and Amsterdam.

Herbert van der Brugghen – april 2019


About Mauricio Escobar

Per Larson (New York 2014)

The Columbian Mauricio Escobar, who has been living in Paris for over twenty years now, and regularly stays in Amsterdam, cannot spurn his native country. He studied at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and is thus familiar with the European tradition.

His art has been made] tangible and poetically expressive through the use of natural raw materials: pigments of warm earth colours such as the ‘terra bruciata’ from Sienna, or yellow ground from Auvergne; weathered textile and vegetal components; thin layers of rice-paper; oxidation processes on metals; resin; carbonised pigments.

His art, which is as refined as that of Zao Wou-Ki and as touchable as that of Tapiès, shows its kinship with the Arte Povera. An energetic radiation and a wild arrangement of the paintings reveal a spiritual landscape of volcanos and rain-forest. Escobar is fascinated by fire – the fire which makes the earth erupt and crack; the fire which withers and chars, but also fertilizes; the fire which both blinds and delights our eyes.

This native power of life is guided by the hand of the artist, without even a hint of any coercion of the form. Rather, one perceives a genuine feeling of a primitive source, of its infiniteness, from which the human eye has made a pictorial choice without the imposition of its own rules. The drawn elements are winding and capricious but not arbitrary; the coatings of pigment stream or extend in wide spreads of light; the applied matter and vegetal elements follow organic lines, and the thin layers of rice-paper remind us of delicate wet veils.

In the summer of 2002 Escobar worked at an ‘Omaggio Etrusco’ at the request of the Instituto Francese in Florence which resulted in slender paintings and installations in which the artist attempted to record the essence of Tuscany. In them viewers were encouraged to recognise the characteristic silhouettes of cypress trees.

“Pollenisation Jaune” (Yellow Pollination) was conceived in Amsterdam and echoes Baudelaire’s ‘Soleils Mouillés’ from ‘Invitation au Voyage’ which had been inspired by Dutch landscapes. Broad sun-splashes inflame the canals of Amsterdam on autumnal afternoons.

Mauricio Escobar specializes in abstract painting. But he also is a master in painting figurative painting. The key question is: how does he do it? As best as I can tell, it’s by tracing the action but then by using all media appropriate to set the mood, the spirit, the context of the action.

Mauricio uses drawing, oils and chalk for starters. One is darker reddish brown, the oils. The other is lighter, chalky white. But if you think that’s all he’s mustered to drive your attention, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Oh he’ll explain it, as he did with me, the varnishing – let’s just say his command of technique is impeccable. These are paintings, as abstract as his public work to date, but not figurative in some measure as well.

The abstract/figurative fight going on in the paintings adds to their energy and action. Discussions with friends riveted by these works always starts with an argument about which way that battle should have gone. The friends who simply stare like deer in headlights at what’s going on are getting it right: it’s all about the interplay between description and extraction/abstraction. For that’s what abstraction is, isn’t it? At least in some measure? Extracting from the subject matter (whether it’s physical or in the artist’s mind’s eye) what’s going on and expressing that through the media of art? Photos give you so much detail something thrown at your wall may stick. Art commands, controls, and masters.

And yes: Mauricio commands your attention, and controls it masterfully. Yes, he’s a master. Of line, for example. Line is used only where needed, to achieve that Just Noticeable Difference. No more, no less. Of shading, dragging the eye kicking and screaming away from the figurative elements into the context of the media. Of massing – massing through color areas, massing through blocking. One great tool he’s used is the mixing of media. You never know what trickery he used to drag your eye to that corner, to that area – but your gut tells you that it was no accident. Unlike photos, torsos are not the focus. Torsos are the playground of photography. Just go look at the Alard Pierson, the Museum of Antiquities, with its juxtaposition of ancient art and modern photographs of the male form. Freed from photography’s phoney democracy – where all detail is equal – this Master exercises total control in his work. One way is to twist and simply deny logic. Art is when an artist by his choice of medium, line, design, choices, and arrangement puts you into a kind of limerance: a falling in love. Mauricio uses a cognitive + perceptual dissonance with his profound mastery of artist’s tools to keep you riveted. Not by the subject matter, but by the presentation. It’s like what happens in a very fine restaurant. But a master chef knows presentation is far more satisfying than reality ever could be: what’s shown, and what’s hidden, arrangement, line, emphasis, color, focus – all to bring your eyes, nose, mouth, and stomach together, focused on one thing: desire. Mauricio’s paintings do the same. These are acts of intimacy. The clue is in the looks on the faces. The comfortability of the posture. The areas of light & dark. The focus is selective. The image is powered by choices made by the artist. Only a few areas, perspectives, body parts get attention, get elaborated. And that barely scratches the surface. The two large images should be viewed from at least 6m away, with it being displayed with the top 40 degrees from the wall. But these are mere technicalities. There’s no need for framing. They’d burn from what’s portrayed. The two large images are by far the most realized. The others are studies. These large works are mature works. All decisions have been made in these works as to what’s been communicated and emphasized – and how it’s being done. The fact that the artist is working in real time with a subject and subjects that are anything but static presents the first artistic challenge. This is what requires simplification of line, careful choice of medium, assembling all together to communicate, and foster, Desire… that’s Art.

Per Larson (New York 2014)