Structures by LUIS SANTOS
05 June – 06 July 2013
6-9PM, 05 June 2013
The Tin Tabernacle of Luis Santos
The urban vernacular landscape is built from corrugated GI sheets and concrete; its architectural philosophy, expressed by maximizing minimal spaces and improvising. Luis Santos takes the visual language of the streets into the gallery with Structures, his fourth solo exhibition. Born from his interest in random abstract forms, the show is a riff on patterns found in mechanically created assemblies. The starting point of Structures is a galvanized iron (GI) sheet—a ubiquitous roofing material in developing countries—that Santos has distorted, warped, and bent to his will.
Four twisted sheets lie on the gallery floor at the feet of a diptych, two square canvases that have been tilted and angled as a reference to construction poster boards, prefabricated tin tabernacles, and provisional lean-to shelters. The strength of Santos’s technique is evident in the three-dimensional quality of his work: the texture, metallic sheen, and rippling surface of the GI sheets are depicted in high fidelity. Each crumple and crease is rendered in minute detail with utter care and attention. In this regard, Santos is comparable to a 15th-century artist obsessed with draped fabrics and communicating the physical properties of cloth—how it folds and falls over a human subject—on canvas. In Structures, the industrial polish of galvanized iron replaces the delicacy of silk and the rich heft of velvet.
Santos’s choice of such a humble construction material is significant given the site of his mixed-media installation. As its name suggests, 20 Square is an exhibition venue of limited dimensions; it is the tightest among Silverlens spaces, with its main display wall measuring a little over 10 feet in width. Structures is the geometry of the urban sprawl writ small: it is the favela, the shantytown, the hutment, and the zinc ghetto. Santos’s canvases can be found leaning loosely and haphazardly against the wall as an improvised response to spatial constraints.
In an essay titled The Most Beautiful House in the World, architecture critic Witold Rybczynski writes: “Building your own home—and inhabiting a space of your own making—is considered by most to be a luxury.” He also observes that “[p]aradoxically, it is a luxury that almost all poor people in the so-called underdeveloped world enjoy.” In this intimate room, Santos pays tribute to the common man’s material, more often prized for its utilitarian properties than its visual appeal. Within the confines of 20 Square, he offers a macroscopic view of the immense ocean of steel that rolls through the city, and captures the beauty of landlocked waves undulating and glinting under the sun.
Santos is not the first artist to discern the aesthetic potential of GI sheets. Roberto Chabet (1937-2013) used the material repeatedly, often together with neon texts. Santos acknowledges that Chabet was a “huge influence” on him and his intellectual inquiry into painting. Structures is drawn from the same conceptual vein as Chabet’s plywood paintings, which were both wall-bound and free-standing. Chabet saw plywood as his material, subject matter, texture, and color. Likewise, Santos uses a GI sheet to “paint” by mounting a flattened section on a stretcher. The dichotomy he puts forward is visually interesting, at the very least: an actual GI sheet rendered flat and presented as a painting vis-à-vis Santos’s hyperrealistic painting of a GI sheet, an illusion so complete that it fools the eye.
Structures meditates on many things: the unexpected tessellations arising from mundane, overlooked objects; the improvisational ingenuity of urban vernacular architecture; and the expanded definition of painting beyond oil and canvas.
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