Paintings and Drawings
March 5 - April 5, 2020
Houston Baptist University
Contemporary Art Gallery
Statement by 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.
These are paintings and drawings that demand more than one quick viewing. I urge you to visit this exhibit more than once. You will be rewarded for doing so.