[A Series of Paintings done in 1989, being shown for the first time in its entirety]
Reception for the artist : T h u r s d a y 2 0 O c t o b e r 6-8 p.m.
"I first encountered the work of Francisco Castro Leñero in the late 1980s, as a relatively young curator seeking to know more about a compelling new generation of Mexican artists gaining prominence in that decade. I had seen some examples of their work on exhibit in galleries and alternative spaces in New York, and I found much of this art to be powerful and engaging, as it sought to interpret the complex intersections of personal, cultural, and national identity. I soon began traveling to Mexico City regularly and discovered a much more varied and complex art scene that was portrayed in art magazines or the few shows I had seen in the United States. Indeed, many young artists were drawing inspiration from the Mexicanismo of the 1920s and '30s, focusing on figurative and narrative forms of painting, and on emphatic invocations of Mexican cultural symbols, icons, and traditions. But at the same time, others of this generation were working with less stereotypical themes and approaches. Like their colleagues in New York and other international art centers, these artists were drawn to conceptual languages, installation, abstraction, and new forms of photography. Some drew from local culture for their subject matter, while others expressed universal themes and showed little inclination to work within national or cultural constructs.
Among the many dozens of studios I visited in Mexico in this era was that of Francisco Castro Leñero, a quietly confident painter who was devoted to abstraction and who early on in his career had developed an artistic language that was distinct from any artist I knew in this country. Upon viewing his large canvases, I was struck by work that seemed to embody both ends of this artistic spectrum, in the best possible way. Here was a young painter, already a master of his medium while in his thirties, who was capable of working with an economy of means to create deeply evocative compositions. His paintings of the 1989 Fossils Lesson series bore a connection to works by others of his generation who were absorbed by the weight of history on Mexico's contemporary culture. But his work of this period moved far beyond the reinterpretation of a nationalist iconography; for me, it seemed to act as a sustained contemplation on time, or better, as an attempt to perceive time topologically, as palpable matter.
Then as now, Castro Leñero produced rich, arresting surfaces – fields of earthy brown, gold, and gray, inflected with marks that suggest movement, the effects of time's passage on physical things, and vestiges of life. Thick white bands, tracks, lines, and triangles punctuate these lyrical surfaces, acting as geometric counterpoints to the earthy-hued grounds. They conjure skeletal systems, tracks, paths, and ruins, forms that represent what remains beyond temporal, corporal life. The geometric elements also endow these canvases with a sense of precision and rigor; they mark a level of exactitude against the more improvisational backgrounds. There was a sense of grandeur in these paintings; they expressed a desire to give form to the ungraspable, while also denoting the realities of human experience.
To see these paintings, some twenty years after their creation, is a revelation. Francisco Castro Leñero has moved on to other forms of abstraction, and has become especially known for his large canvases with grids of muted color, tone poems that introduce an emotional subjectivity to geometric abstraction. He is now recognized as one of Mexico's greatest painters as well as a renowned teacher, one who is adamantly committed to exploring and renewing painting in a time when other artists approach this medium with irony or a kind of cerebral detachment from its physicality. But for Castro Leñero, painting remains vital, relevant, and sometimes magical – each canvas is potent with the possibility of an encounter with the sublime".
Elizabeth Ferrer Director, Contemporary Art BRIC Arts | Media | Brooklyn