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Curated by Claude Mohr

January 11 - 26, 2024



From his homoerotic interrogations of bullfighting to his more recent, achromatic abstractions, themselves transmutations of the bullfighter’s cape, the multifaceted oeuvre of José Gabriel Fernández (Caracas, Venezuela, 1957) reflects a sustained engagement with desire, ephemerality, and form. José Gabriel Fernández, A Brief History of Drawing presents a series of “action drawings” restored as video projections that explore the tensions between materiality and illusion, transience and permanence. Created in the early eighties, during his time as a student at Middlesex Polytechnic in London, Fernández’s Pequeño Manual de Dibujo (1981–82), or, ‘Little Drawing Handbook,’ was produced as the artist became enmeshed in a milieu of conceptualism through his mentors and peers, influenced by figures such as Dante Leonelli, the American kinetic light sculpture artist, and Robert Janz, the New York-based conceptual artist known for his use of impermanent materials such as water and sticks.

Though Fernández is most well-known as a sculptor, creating sensuous, corporeal volumes and geometric reliefs, many of his abstract works are also inflected with a drawing-like, schematic quality. Utilizing the whiteness of his volumes and traced surfaces in tandem with the whiteness of the walls of the contemporary gallery space, Fernández’s more recent artworks highlight the relationship between light and shadow, evoking markings on paper. Even now, the drawing continually rears its head in the artist’s corpus, serving as a conduit for interrogations of the interplay of the trace and the transient qualities of form. In a similar vein, Fernández’s Pequeño Manual de Dibujo employs the transitory language of shadows and tracings to satirically disrupt notions of artistic didacticism and Euclidean geometry, hence the title of this exhibition.

In Fernández’s Pequeño Manual de Dibujo, one sees the creation of an axial outline of a pyramid followed by several scenes of interrupted draftsmanship—interventions into the objective construction of three-dimensional space. Whether by burning or by inserting nontraditional materials like crumpled paper and sticks, the artist continually undermines aesthetic convention by materially intervening into the imagined space of the pyramid. At the same time, Fernández’s seemingly destructive techniques are generative of new forms of mark-making, transforming the virtual geometry’s shadow into something tangible and disorderly. The flame, though unruly and fleeting, ultimately becomes a productive force in Fernández’s hands, leaving behind an indelible trace of the tensions between historical ideal and contemporary practice.

Claude Mohr, M.A. student in Art History

This exhibition is part of the ISLAA Artist Seminar Initiative sponsored by the Institute for Studies on Latin American Art (ISLAA) in collaboration with the University Galleries and the School of Art and Art History. The parallel exhibition Vital and Veiled: Valerie Brathwaite and José Gabriel Fernández will be on view at the Gary R Libby University Gallery from October 27, 2023, to January 26,


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