Luis Xertu, Renditions of impermanence at Torch Gallery, Amsterdam
Torch Gallery, Amsterdam
until 25 April 2020
by Doron Beuns
Life is inherently ephemeral and fragile. Mother Nature could take life at the same rate of creation, even in the most prosperous and medically advanced societies. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has proven that possibility beyond the stretch of our collective imagination. Until the public health crisis, most of us were not at all used to dealing with mercilessness of Mother Nature, at least not on a daily basis. Being constantly confronted with the finitude of life could therefore easily unsettle us. However, one thing that could actually help us deal with this unsettlement is a work of art. At its best it could help us to come to terms with mercilessness of Mother Nature and find consolation in its sublime beauty. Luis Xertu’s first solo presentation at Torch Gallery in Amsterdam could not have been scheduled at a more interesting time in that respect.
The paintings of Luis Xertu depict shadowy figures in gloomy natural scenes made from real plants that are directly glued onto dark canvases. Some of these plants appear to be freshly picked and relatively vital whereas other plants are as faint as the figures in the painting. A sense of vitality has been lost or will be lost over time in a Luis Xertu painting. Everything seems to be caught in the midst of fading away into oblivion. That which really disintegrates within the painting and that which disintegrates in our imagination become one.
Luis Xertu consistently blurs distinctions between pictorial and material elements in his paintings. This mostly applies to how or where the plants are applied onto the canvas. When we pay attention to how the plants are applied we may notice that the plants remain flat on their own but suddenly return to three dimensions when they partake in a composition. If we then on the other hand pay attention to where the plants are applied (and where they are not applied), we may notice that the smooth dark space could function as a background in one part of a painting but could suggest a tree -branch, water-source or figure in another.
Positive and negative are constantly at odds with each other in Xertu’s paintings. Not just visually but also conceptually; we on the one hand observe the dismal ephemerality that comes with the passing of time but on the other hand observe subjects that leisure away. They are enjoying nature rather than being concerned with its laws. This is where a possible concern about human finitude makes place for the beauty of obsolescence in Xertu’s paintings. They rightfully acknowledge that human experience has always existed on the exact borderline of these two domains. It is up to us where we place the emphasis, especially today.