Solo Show, Ramon Oviedo as published in Artnexus Sept, 2004|
Issue #53 Jul - Sep 2004
Ramón Oviedo’s 80th anniversary has been celebrated with four important exhibitions in Santo Domingo. The El Espacio and Lyle O’Reitzel galleries have held, respectively, Oviedo’s most recent drawing and painting works (strictly speaking, those from 2004). Meanwhile, Santo Domingo’s Casa de Francia exhibits Oviedo’s self-portraits, painted over three decades. A whole exercise in sustained introspection.
But it is the exhibition presented by Centro Cultural de España, with paintings dated between 1997 and 2003, that affords a more complete view of Oviedo’s recent evolution, and reveals among Dominican painters one that maintains an exceptional vitality given his advanced age. As is typical of late styles, memorably studied by Rudolf Arnheim, this half-decade-plus of Oviedo’s work is characterized by a surprising technical solvency, but not by the usual dissolution of forms. On the contrary, Oviedo retains the same predilection for compact and massive shapes that was already his when he won first prize at the 13th Dominical Arts Biennale with Uno que va, otro que viene, a modern classic in his country. Although is work is no longer as inclined towards drawing in the sense of linear definition, it still remains so in terms of the underlying structure of all his images. But the emphasis is also placed on color, on the transparencies and modulations of matter, on graffito and scratching, and on the strictly pictorial, more than ever in the history of his painting.
Oviedo’s treatment of color here is highly characteristic. Far now from the flat almost-inks of the 1970’s, color often becomes colored light, laboriously elaborate, with a wealth of shades. Matter, color, and light are almost synonyms. And his soft sfumattos and veilings allude in a way to the entire history of painting, reactualizing it
A certain fetish hieratism and an occult but ever-present, implicit intensity contribute, along with the format, a monumental quality that brings Oviedo close to Szyszlo and Guayasamín and, consequently, to a common Latin American language, although with well-define characteristics of its own. Oviedo’s paintings require large spaces for their exhibition, deciphering, and aesthetic assimilation, without however being overwhelming.
This is, on the other hand, a period in Oviedo’s career of intense philosophical preoccupations. The human, his main motif, is still present. But it does not take center stage in Oviedo’s cogitations. To a degree, the insistence on social themes, which characterized Oviedo in the 1960s and reached its climax with works like 24 de abril, now at the Isaac Leaf collection, has disappeared. His interests are now more metaphysical, and revolve around the relationship, defined in Aristotelian terms, between matter and form. And also between time and eternity. The physical and spiritual evolution of hominids into humans, and the impact of technology in the modern world, bring Oviedo’s current universe, ultimate substratum of his iconography, closer to Kubrik’s films.
Thus, what give this period in Oviedo’s career its identity and its peculiar physiognomy is not only an iconography or a set of techniques, but also his peculiar iconology. Among living Dominican artists Oviedo is probably the one who captures more drama in his images, and the one who has remained within the bounds of a language that assume with the greatest vigor and vitality the vital and aesthetic commitments of 1960s expressionism. But such vitality, in turn, implies a capacity for evolution that allows him, while remaining faithful to himself, to renew constantly in search of forms appropriate to a sensibility that is at once introspective and profoundly moved by the contemporary world.
This is also a language where the boundaries between abstraction and figuration have been blurred, and where anecdote cedes its place to symbol, to the universal-ancestral-atemporal elements of aesthetic expression.
An obviously curated exhibition, without drops of concessions. With an even quality and accompanied by a book/catalog carefully presented and documented, which in itself constitutes and valuable legacy for connoisseurs and students of Oviedo’s oeuvre and of Dominican art in general.