Carlos Canul is a contemporary abstract oil painter who lives and works in Splendora, Texas. A native of Brownsville, Texas, his art focuses on the merging of figuration and abstraction, while holding together the traditions of a layered exploration of the medium. His personal style draws from a combination of his Mayan heritage and the spiritual dialogue that draws forth within his life, and the natural surroundings he encounters wherever he goes.
Landscapes, Meso-American and world mythologies, spiritual realms, and figuration are all major themes in his paintings and drawings. The use of darkness and light, stark lines and blurred imagery combine to invite the viewer into a world of questions both personal and communal.
As a teen, Canul attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, in Dallas Texas. It is there he began honing his talent for artistic expression; “My drawings lead to a deeper understanding of my painting modalities; thus, they hold the key to expressing my painterly explorations.” This was only furthered by his time spent as an undergraduate art student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Southern Methodist University, and Houston Baptist University where he graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing.
Canul’s artwork has been shown in solo and various curated and juried exhibitions in the United States and Europe. He has also served on various selection panel committees for The Office of Cultural Affairs, Public Art Program in Dallas, Texas.
Canul currently holds a position as professor of visual art at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas where he teaches graduate level painting and drawing, gallery and museum practices and graduate level seminar. He is director of The Fine Arts Museum and director/lead curator of the Contemporary Art Gallery on the HBU campus, where he exhibits the artwork of local, regional, and international visual artists. Canul also works with his wife Ruby Surls at the family art studio in Splendora, Texas; an alternative art space focusing on arts education, visual and performing arts, and the environment.
“I am inspired by the growth and artistic depth of my students and colleagues, while pursuing my passion for visual expression.”
Statement by Jim Edwards
Art Writer and Curator
I remember my first encounter with the paintings and drawings by Carlos Canul, six or seven years ago. He mentioned to me that he loved the paintings by Roberto Matta, the 20th Century painter initially a participant in the Surrealist movement in Europe, who explored what he referred to as “psychological morphologies”, a quasi-abstract improvisation in painting and drawing. There was something about the strange greyness of the atmosphere and fractured forms in Canul’s art that also reminded me of Matta’s art. But as I have come to know and befriend Canul over the ensuing years, I believe my initial response to Canul’s paintings, and my on the spot comparison with Matta, were only partially correct.
Canul recently shared with me his thoughts about his process. “I begin a painting or drawing with the gestural act of mark making and layers of paint, that energy gives way to form, and that form sprouts ideas and concepts for a story to take shape. For the most part I know early on, thematically, in which direction the painting needs to precede, and how it should be resolved, and what color issues need to be resolved, and what textures will be used to best conclude the painting of that day.” Canul does not normally complete a painting or drawing in a single day, whether he works on canvas or paper his mark making goes through various stages of development until he decides a work is complete. His entire process involves a synthesis of forms and images dissolving and re-forming through the processes of drawing and painting. The cosmological references in Canul’s art are something he shares with the 1940’s paintings by Matta. But there are also differences, in that Matta’s works seem always to be imaginative depictions of outer space bordering on science fiction, and Canul’s paintings can be seen as energy fields that exist in the galaxies and in our own world here on earth.
Outer space lacks horizons, is seen as a continuous expansive space, filled with planets and gaseous masses. In his painting The Journey of Venus through the Underworld, Canul has brought a depiction of stellar space down to ground level. In this, he is also acknowledging his interest in ancient Mayan cosmology. In his 2017 painting Rainbow Body a horizon line is established near the top on the canvas, dividing a light source of scrubby yellow above a grey field that is shot through with a vertical rainbow of intense red. In his most recent paintings and mixed media works on paper, Canul has exercised more freedom in his paint handing. His compositions are ripe with scrubbed out areas that have been energetically repainted. His paintings are mostly monochromatic, and completely so in the painting The Necropolis, but when colors are added they are carried along and given vibrancy by the muted grays and blacks that surround them.
What I find appealing about these paintings is their openness. Canul lets his handling of his materials suggest an atmosphere and a feeling. His subjects and their depictions are large and complex, like life itself, multilayered as to atmospheric landscapes and human emotions. Carlos Canul leaves it up to us the viewing public to come to our own relationship with his art.