Julián Prebisch: catalogue text, Recoleta Cultural Center, 2009
For those of us who have followed the artistic evolution of Julián Prebisch (1977), we discover a new alignment, a new challenge in the work comprising this exhibition. On abandoning bright colors and psychedelic images, the young artist moves into a new, more personal universe, one of introspection, as if reaching to resolve an enigma that perplexes him. The Recoleta show reflects the depth of this process: it reveals the artist’s commitment to art and to life itself.
The results of this new perception are disconcerting: the works move us to reconsider his evolution. The game of abstracting images is over. Julián’s rainbow has entered a tunnel. The primary colors which the artist brandished like African flags have become opaque. The daring tones of earlier years have turned to pastel today, becoming muted. Also the atmosphere of the work has been transformed; it is more subtle, more profound. What was at the beginning a celebration, today is a rumination, a search. The artist manifests other concerns in this second institutional exhibition.
Today he is in the midst of a quest to find his own persona as an artist, his center in a world that has veered toward the periphery. He touches on topics that have their origins in certain practices related to magic. The occult sciences run through veins that approach, when turned inside out, quantum physics. Julián addresses his work like a scientist, an investigator looking to decipher a formula whose elements resist resolution. He advances at a pace more common to the laboratory, without pressing; he repeats experiments until the result is satisfactory.
While other artists of his generation seek their artistic ammunition on the outside, physically and geographically, Julián excavates the intricacies of his own being. Delving inside of one’s self is a tough task and often a painful one. The seeker finds debris and obstacles and must move beyond the rubbish that appears in any serious self-confrontation.
Today’s Julián is poised on the razor’s edge. He maintains his balance thanks to his natural talent and disciplined dedication. He manages to combine his essential dominion of the esthetic with the imagery he has chosen to use at this point in his career. He places emphasis not only on selecting his images with great care, but also takes advantage of a vast arsenal of materials. He mixes everything on the surface of the canvas, as well as beyond the limits of the stretcher; he integrates the picture’s frame into the work and adds objects, reminiscent of a mini-installation. All these elements contribute to enriching the work visually and conceptually.
If the earlier work seduced the eye with its hallucinatory dance, at this moment the sensation is purely post-Gothic. Julián’s palette is the tone of tempests, more black than white in every sense. His figures, when they appear, emerge from esoteric tomes, prints related to magic, from internal worlds that measure their march according to symbols and signs beyond those commonly encountered.
He attacks each work from three different angles. First, he prepares the background, which may seem to be the surface of a slice of marble or the painted pieces of paper that once wrapped around the inner covers of an ancient book. They are trompe l’oeil that echo nature, whose movements imitate liquids in revolution. He discovered that Coca-Cola could serve as a medium, instead of water, for preparing colors, and he used the popular soft drink to achieve these fluid textures.
Julián dedicates his most conscientious effort to this initial stage of the process. He introduces the plot, which can be summarized in an object such as a jar, a rooster, or a complex abstract design with Arabic reminiscences, a patchwork of tiny geometrics. Occasionally he adds fragments of glass, of mirrors, to impose certain rhythms and reflections that he seeks. He completes the work with a complex frame, related to the direction in which he wishes to direct the eye and the mind of the viewer.
Art Deco is a determinant in his world; it predominates in the decoration of his spaces, in the scheme of his designs and in his essential sense of esthetics. He applies it to his most formal expressions; he also allows himself to be seduced by its more degenerative aspect, kitsch. Deco provides a structure for his backgrounds; it offers a visual framework that captivates the eye. Kitsch appears in the anecdote, flaunting the popular spirit that manifests itself in excesses and exaggerations.
He imbues his paintings with symbolisms that are often self-referential. The receptor of his messages needs to accustom himself to the codes that the titles of the works veil: they become legible when one looks with caution and care. For example, Una cárcel de oro y plata (A Prison of Gold and Silver), Monoambiente (A Single Space – Space for One CUAL¿??), and Malamado corazón de piedra (Badly Loved Stone-Hearted OK???) are pieces of a personal poetics that escape the banality of the superficial. Nevertheless, the work can stand alone without analyzing the anecdote that lurks behind the image.
What most separates Julián from his peers is that he applies a classical approach to his art. He has a tremendous respect for what he produces and his aim is achieving posterity. There is a struggle implicit in any attempt at aiming for perfection. His character does not permit indecision: excellence and the obsession to obtain it guide each brushstroke. His rhythm is that of a snail, of the tortoise: he does not, for example, feel the compulsion of the hare. He can spend a morning in trance evaluating his next step, an entire day searching for just the right object to bring an idea to fruition.
He looks for his materials in the most unusual places. He uses a skinned rabbit in the freezer of a Peruvian restaurant as a model. The head of a pig hanging emblematically in a butcher’s shop serves as a pictorial element. He discovers fragments of fur or leather in the furriers of Boedo and visits merchants that trade in the artifacts of Santería and Umbanda.
He buys long tresses of black hair in markets and hangs them alongside pictures that represent the same braided locks, painted to perfection. He thus produces the transformation of an organic object into an immaterial image. He refers through this role-playing to the presence of magic in the world he constructs around him. His studio is full of possible conversions and re-contextualizations.
He traveled to Bolivia and frequented the markets where curanderas offered him a variety of exotic materials that later would find their place in his work or imagination. Here he integrates and incorporates this esthetic and its material manifestations into his work, without abandoning his own personality as an artist. These objects are unable to dominate him: they lose their original charge and seem like any other element in the complex construction of his work. To achieve that condition, Julian exercises a kind of magic when he mixes his elements, like a witch with her cauldron of herbs and roots.
Time is one of Julian’s most treasured tools. It is one of the scarcest resources in today’s world. While not everyone is in a situation that permits them to use time at will, Julián is, and he employs his hours as his needs dictate. Change requires time to mature at a healthy pace.
He works in series or, better said, in sequences, where one work leads to the next, the resolution of the first providing the point of initiation of another. A trilogy, for example, is composed of “El aburrimiento del rey padre” (The King Father’s Boredom), “Los caprichos de la reina” (The Queen’s Whims), and “El orgullo del principito” (The Little Prince’s Pride). There is, of course, no lineal link between the three paintings, but there is something in the first that triggers the next, and so on consecutively. Some titles are allusive: “La destrenzada” (The Unbraided), “Equipo de mago” (Magician’s Kit), “Chancho” (Pig), and others are more suggestive: “Matrimonio” (Marriage), “El silencio” (The Silence), or “La primera y última fase del enamoramiento” (The First and Last Phase of Falling in Love).
His evolution has followed a pendulum-like path. Vivid colors disappeared, to be replaced by subtle half-tones. The forms follow an architectural structure with personal projections. The codes of Art Deco discipline the composition. The emblematic figures of before have fallen before an invasion of images derived from the artist’s most recent curiosity.
If previously the painted picture was terrain enough to contain his expressivity, today Julián extends his domain over the wall surrounding the central piece. It is no longer sufficient to imprison the work in a neutral frame. The frame itself is integrated into the work, as well as the objects in the adjoining territory.
The actual world of this artist is more static, a world painted from his brain, not from an abstracted representation of the subject matter. He seeks to suspend time, allowing us to approach the work in an atemporal frame of reference. He allows us to recapture the perennial timing of art, without the acceleration of video, the fugitiveness of the performance or the immediacy of photography. To accept Julián Prebisch’s challenge is to rediscover the practice of meditation. This show is a feat of integration: of techniques, materials, space and image. His work proves that painting in and of itself is still valid, and in the hands of young artists like Julián, with talent and imagination, the art of painting will continue to astonish us, as it always has.