Orchard Windows Gallery
37 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
Thursday September 20 – Thursday October 11, 2012
Opening reception for the artist: Thursday September 20th starting at 6 p.m.
by Gregory de la Haba
There's never a shortage of interesting ideas ruminating throughout the streets of NYC. Sit in Starbucks on St. Mark's Square for a day and you could write a book filled with them; from the homeless man's foldable suitcase for the wandering traveler to the NYU kids dreaming new pilot series for HBO. Yet every idea is but a candle waiting to be lit. And the fire for that candle most important in commencing the metamorphosis of idea into something grander, into practice, into hard work, into success and how wonderful when that fire can be spotted right there in the pupil of the eyes from the ones who first spoke an interesting idea? I first heard about Alex Esquerra the artist while at the Box on the Lower East Side, supposedly there was a show of his that I somehow missed the very night I attended. There was another one I heard about and missed again at Warhol's old factory.
Then, at the new club Le Baron in Chinatown a few months back I start talking to the bartender, Alex Esquerra, the artist who's shows I kept missing all over downtown. New York in a nut shell: It's one of the smallest towns in the world. And the New York art world even smaller and if you work at it and go out often enough you'll eventually meet and know everyone you need to. Within a NY minute of ordering my drink from this young handsome man I was informed full heartedly of his true vocation and his ambitious pursuit with an interesting idea called Love and Paint and immediately thought this son of a bitch should be in sales and having a good laugh over it all, too. Satisfied by his impeccably well made cocktail and his "joie de vive" in speaking of his work, I promised, as fellow artist, to pay him a studio visit one day in the future -especially after after he told me this: he served in the United States Air Force and his father also an artist (one who, I would learn later, was sent a huge truck filled with new paints and large canvases compliments of the maestro himself, William De Kooning, who, after seeing his show, admired the art of small, well painted, abstract canvases and asked the young budding artist why he didn't paint larger for which Alex's father replied; 'no money'). So in retrospect it was a patriotic duty, to country and to art and to the generosity of De Kooning, to see what this Love and Paint was all about and to have a few more good drinks at Le Baron from this fellow who speaks with a well-lit spark in his eyes.
His first solo exhibition, at Orchard Windows Gallery, is a selection of new works of life-size canvases that explore questions of paint application, metaphysics, tribalism and something called universal truth, the title for this exhibition. I sat down with Mr. Esquerra for an interview recently at a little place on the Lower East side that makes drinks as good as he, maybe better, and to play devils advocate a bit in order to gain further insight into what this Universal Truth stuff is all about. But first, a few words from the catalog as preface:
Sexual desire is sexual desire and its force, in an individual's psychology, is independent of the ultimate Darwinian pressure that drove it. It is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale.
- Richard Dawkins
Esguerra observed that historically, wherever paint and surface are present, so is the artist. In pursuit of a universal truth (that metaphysical common denominator that eluded the likes of Mondrian, Rothko and Newman) the artist still employed himself as mediator, persistently instilling his own subjective take on the existential circumstances surrounding him. How to achieve the universal gesture? How to move from a situation where paint, canvas, and the artist – the necessary vehicle – deliver the essence, to one where the artist emphatically rules himself out, a bona-fide surrender of the ego to greater powers, genuine essentialism, and a universal truth?
Esguerra offers up a mediator: the human body in coitus. To accentuate the universality of this act, and its manifestation of universality on the support through paint, Esguerra has chosen mediators of the same female sex, of varying tribes, abstracting from the merely instrumental motivations of the universal urge. Esguerra seeks to emblematize the universal in as distilled a form as possible; by ignoring the instrumental, reproductive “Darwinian pressure” underpinning the act, Esguerra focuses on our whole species’ universal truth and how this manifests itself. He eschews mundane questions of why the urge and with whom, in favor of a focus on the mystical sensations brought on by that urge: they are what they are and they are nothing else. For the human, sex is the ultimate unifier, the lowest common denominator, and its throes and gestures are emblematic of that fact.
Gregory de la Haba: Hello Alex, how's your drink?
Alex Esguerra: Not bad, thank you.
dlH: I love the term Universal Truth. How or when did it first attest itself to Love And Paint? Was it during the initial conceptualization?
A.E.: To be honest, I never planned it. It birthed itself. I decided early on to begin documenting the process of the project and in that process I interviewed the couples before and after their experience. One, a young homosexual African man, disclosed an horrific event witnessed as a child in Uganda. He saw a lesbian being stoned to death. In Uganda it is legal to imprison and kill homosexuals. At that moment I began looking at all the works in the studio quite differently. Also, I tried to have people guess what type of couple made each painting and I quickly realized it was impossible. The experience in the making of art provided an opportunity to lose labels in the painting process and proving, in actuality, that we are all equal and in this scenario sex, or more precisely, love making, becomes that great equalizer.
dlH: Most painters I know come about their style by way of actually painting. Were you engaged in lovemaking when you realized yours?
A.E: Its funny how ideas hit us. Sometimes they come out of nowhere and sometimes they are simmering subconsciously on that back burner waiting for a spark to bring them to light. For me, I was in the advertising world and I got tired of seeing the "non-creatives" being dismissed simply because their business card classified them as an account manager, or production or whatever. When we are kids no one tells us our doodles are stupid or our imaginations unrealistic, we allow creativity to run wild, yet at a certain age, probably after college, we define each other's role and attach labels and I always hated that segmentation. Creativity breathes in all of us whether we know it or not and in a way I think that back burner wanted me to create something that proved we can all be artists in one light or another. Following a wild sexy night I woke up and saw my room in disarray. I imagined how our bodies interacted with the space and thought what if it was done in paint on canvas. Then I thought, wait, anyone can have sex, so its suffice to say anyone can make these paintings and in a sense call themselves artists, proving my theory that creativity and artistic expression are within us all whether a BFA exists under our belt or not.
dlH: Its quite amazing that you get something so attractive to look at in the finished product and not a big, gross, pile of brown and muddied-looking turd splattered all about. How does this happen?
A.E.: When I began the project I was so over zealous with having my first real art show that I began promoting the show without having done a single painting. So one night, and single, I attempted it myself, in the dark and rolling all about pretending I was with someone. When I hit the lights I was immediately depressed. It looked just as I feared - like a child in arts and crafts who made a huge mess. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about it whatsoever. Weeks went by when I thought of dropping the entire project until one day I had an idea. I invited a young lady friend over with whom I always had an unspoken sexual tension with. I explained my dilemma and asked if she wouldn't mind coming over, drop down to under garments, and simulate having sex with me as we rubbed, smoothed and patted paint over our bodies. Suffice to say the second we began the game was over and we went wild. We were wrapped in the canvas like a human burrito. When all was said and done and our sexual tension done with the painting was incredible. In the few years since I've mastered the mediums and paints, levels of viscosity, color combinations, proportions of paint, color and fluidity per couple, a few other techniques, tips, and so forth in order to ensure each work of art an aesthetic success. Basically, I look at it much like a science experiment, setting up as many controls as humanly possible and allowing their act of love to be the only variable and then anticipate for the best!
dlH: The work gives off as mysterious, grand and perplexing like a God-particle colliding in Switzerland yet with none of the apprehension one might expect from a celibate priest in the confessional. Do any of the participants revel in an religious or God-like experience after the experience?
A.E.: One couple who celebrated their 30th year wedding anniversary mentioned afterwards that the experience became other-worldly for them and which, of course, I was elated to hear. And as it's turned out since this is par for the course with everyone feeling differently, happier, immediately afterwards, glowing in fact. It's like the cosmic chemistry of their union was slightly altered in some profound way, always for the better. It would be amazing to get a celibate priest and a nun to make one together, ha!! That would be priceless!
dlH: Yes, it would. But back to reality for a moment: Don't ya think then that this 'glow' that comes off from these brave folk who participate in this erotic conceptual-art-experience is because they're creating something in unison, together,romantically, spiritually, willingly and which, in the end, brings us back to the beginning and to that greatest mystery of all- creation! So perhaps Richard Dawkins is a bit fluffed, fallacious, simply mistaken, in his assertion that these strong urges of the libido are independent of its ultimate rationale and, as I believe, cohesive to that rationale and are indeed imbedded deep in the DNA, in the heart and mind from past lives, passed from our forbearers, in our 'psychology', as fitting stimuli to create? And that goes for whether we're creating babies or war amongst heterosexuals or art and peace amongst homosexuals, I might add.
E.A.: Wow!! I mean, that truly is a lot to think about. I love these questions. I get so tired of the same inquiries about my work. I'm not sure how to answer that, but one thing I feel is that I truly believe these works of art have captured the energy and spirit of their makers. I live in a small studio filled, jammed-pack, with these paintings and am forced to confront them all day, everyday and I'm very in tune to all types of energies around me, to feng shui, exercising and proper dieting, to mind over matter and the like; and as silly as it sounds, I can feel these images pulsating when lying in bed next to them. I feel they are living, breathing, entities birthed from the colliding energy of love and sexuality.
dlH: Bravo. And with that I'll finalize the interview with this: When I first heard about this love and paint 'concept' of yours I thought it gimmicky and kitsch. But there's sincerity to what you've created Alex and beauty in what your participants experienced and walked away with. You've proffered to the art world, via this clever and ever-so-much-fun art-making process, a series of paintings that literally can 'lay' claim to humanity's strongest of urges, independent or not of it's 'Darwinian pressure' and 'ultimate rationale' and perhaps, even, a little insight into that urge. Furthermore, to all your loving and willing couple participants, the opportunity to behold that 'mystical sensation' of lovemaking in an entirely new light. And where there's light you know what they say. Are you a mystic man, Alex?
A.E.: I love the idea of mysticism and definitely believe in it. I'm also open to all sorts of ideologies but when it comes down to it I'm a fairly realistic person who just dreams a lot and believes in those dreams more than anything else and I enjoy processing such stimuli in often strange and, I guess, mystic ways and, at times, can feel extra sensitive to those alternate realities. In my mind these ideas aren't about some surreal realm of mysticism, but a paralleled way of thinking.
dlH: Thank you very much, Alex. Welcome to the art world!
A.E.: Thank you,very much, de la Haba. Can we get another drink? They're really good actually.
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Gregory de la Haba is an artist and writer from New York City.