Open rooms

USLE River

The oeuvre of Spanish painter Juan Usle (°1954, Santander) is extremely varied. In his abstract paintings he combines a well-considered process with intuitive painting.

His work was part of various exhibitions that have been devoted to the art of painting, and could be seen in, among others, the Documenta IX in Kassel. Throughout his career, Juan Uslé went through a variety of style phases. Two criteria have more or less remained the same in his development, namely the actual, practical painting on the one hand and the continuous stream, the transformation that painting brings about, on the other. Juan Uslé started painting in 1980. His style fits in with abstract expressionism. Yet he simultaneously paints figurative elements that often refer to landscapes and more or less fit in with the romantic tradition. Uslé paints ephemeral descriptions of atmospheric conditions, in semi-transparent layers and saturated, impossible colours. A painter of his level can do nothing but think, be it consciously or subconsciously, about the boundaries of such an approach. In 1987 he left Spain for New York, where everything can be questioned. This move was also the start of an adventure where painting stops being a transparent medium with a vision of the world, to become a field of dialogue. His approach is not conceptual, there is no programme steering the practice. On the one hand, he realises the inadequacy of an old medium in comparison with the increasingly precarious and ungraspable reality. On the other, the conscious and affirmative acceptance of the medium’s limitations can create a ritual, a contract, a network of appearances and a possibility to paint. His practice is constructive, it is born in the act of painting and these constructions are filled with contrasts, carried and kept together by a human impulse. Uslé enjoys working with contrasts: thick and thin, stable and fragile, fast and slow, shiny and mat. Founded in an obsessively observed reality, his paintings link various types of abstraction. He articulates quite precisely, helps the viewer on his way in the labyrinth-type space of the painting, but leaves a lot unspoken. Through major command of the language of form and an almost psychological connection with colour, the painter invites you to look. Uslé also introduces ‘duration’ in his work, he counters the immediacy promoted by the media via the intensification of the present. For the ‘Open Rooms’ exhibition the choice was made to focus on his paintings from the nineties up until his most recent works.

The exhibition includes around fifty paintings grouped in six open categories. In the large central room on the top floor, there are twelve vertical works from the ‘Soñé que Revelabas’ series. These large black canvasses consist of a fine horizontal pattern of lines. Each attempt at pictorial impressions is suppressed. The deep, transparent spaces seem to be readable like texts. Small colour nuances contribute to the spatial tension. The ‘Gramática urbana’ paintings are based on horizontal and vertical structures that refer to architectural shapes as well as to the movement of form and light. Often in a pattern of parallel stripes, they contain a confrontation of various colours and formal elements. The compositions sometimes seem like an echo of large towns. They offer us static images of movement. The ‘Rizoma’ series includes more complex compositions with a layer of lines and colours. The canvasses become rhythmic, dynamic spaces, sounding out sensory perception. The ‘Eolo (El otro orden)’ works can be considered more or less exceptional. They have light tints, a lot of white and the composition is more ‘simple’ with formal elements on a monochrome background without perspective. Some of these works show an influence of other Spanish painters such as Juan Miró. The categories created by Uslé in which he groups his work are formal. There is however one category, the ‘Celibataires’, in which he brings together canvasses that do not look alike at all. These ‘Celibataires’ can be seen as various style exercises, usually of the same size. Throughout the diversity of his oeuvre, Uslé’s work speaks of history and the possibilities of the art of painting. In most of his works you can see an abstract image, a realistic depiction as a virtual world.

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