The exhibition Elizam Escobar: Views and Passages of the Return presents 51 works executed by painter, poet and theoretician Elizam Escobar. The show is divided chronologically, though not thematically. Thirty-two paintings encompass his most recent production, created after his release from federal prison, works that have not been seen by the public. The other 19 pieces were completed during his years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Reno, Oklahoma; several of these works were previously shown at the Museo de las Americas in Old San Juan.
Views and Passages of the Return, the exhibition at the Museo de Arte de Ponce is comprised of oil, acrylic and mixed media paintings, in addition to a series of small format constructions . An adjoining gallery will showcase four of his earlier oil paintings from the 1980s, which traveled to New York and Chicago with the exhibition Art as an Act of Liberation.
I find this spatial and chronological explanation to the artworks on display necessary in order to understand the fact that Escobar has been dealing with similar unifying, philosophical, aesthetic, and formal preoccupations since the early 1980s. Escobar's physical surroundings and emotional state have obviously changed, yet his concerns as an artist, although they have evolved and developed into mature and highly accomplished versions of the paintings executed in the early 1980s, hove not strayed from his in initials instincts .
Likewise, his present thematic interest involving the dynamics of communication between people, sometimes in pairs and others in groups, can be traced to Two Profiles in an Album ( Perfiles en un album) of 1982. In this painting two gruesome heads in profile stare at each other from opposite pages in a photo album, establishing a tense and confrontational atmosphere. The pictorial space Is divided in two symmetrical planes, such as will be observed in the later works, even when many characters are introduced.
Escobar's desire to explore how we talk to, treat and perceive each other is nowhere more evident than in his painting The Observer Observed, where the figure in the background (Escobar himself) stairs at us through binoculars. His magnified stare makes us uncomfortable; this voyeur invades our privacy and is in control of the situation; our only choice is to look away. The Observer Observed is a powerful painting,historically it expounds on the philosophical debate as to the role and purpose of the gaze, and simultaneously its subject matter is suggestively sensual and unsettling, while it hints to the loneliness of contemporary life. Two figures (male and female) share the pictorial space, even overlapping or touching each others forearms, andyet their stares do not even cross. Thus, the worst kind of loneliness, that which humans fear the most; the shared loneliness of dysfunctional communications, the polarization o f the culture wars, the fanaticism of bi-partisan politics.
Contemporary life does not promote profound communication or thinking, even though we are constantly overwhelmed by the frantic availability of all sorts of information. We, the citizens of this post-modern, global community, have become used to knowing a little bit of everything through our access lo 24-four hour news, the Internet, and science and history channels; and yet we are unable to really communicate basic human feelings to one another. We have become accustomed to a fragmented and polarized discourse, and Escobar, with on outsider's perspective, is keenly aware of this. Previously, when Escobar was i nco rcero led, we could experience his works and not feel uncomfortable by the inherent isolation and claustrophobia. However, the recent works were painted in the post two years, after his release; therefore he is pointing our shared experiences of solitude, as someone who still feels like an outsider and has the observational skills of an anthropologist.
Escobar's works also hove their humorous insights and plays. In Painter and model, the first pointing of the recent works, the model stores directly al the viewer while being deconstructed by a tiny man who is on the floor looking at her with his binoculars. Simultaneously, the naked pointer is unaware of the voyeuristic presence, or of anyone else for that molter. The pointer exists to point, a vocation that sometimes renders him blind lo reality, or maybe frees him from it. At the same time, the minuscule man deconstructs the model with his stare, and yet, he does not threaten her; she sits silently and in control.Elizam Escobar‘s works pose many questions and sometimes they offer some answers, but they are not the prophecies of on oracle, they are just extensions of the man. Escobar needs his act, whether it is pointing, poetry or his essays as much as he needs his heart. Art is his act of liberation. Liberation from physical, mental social and political constraints. Art allowed him to be free during almost 20 years of confinement. Now that he is among us, art allows him to be.
Marilú Purcell. Exhibition Catalogue, Elizam Escobar: Views and Passages of the Return. 2002.