by Robert Boyd
What does it mean to be an abstract expressionist forty or fifty years after the movement ran out of steam? That's what I asked myself looking at Ibsen Espada's new show at New Gallery/Thom Andriola. Espada was one of the artists chosen for Fresh Paint, the ground-breaking painting show at the MFAH in 1985. He had several years of real success after that. But by 2004, he was almost completely out of the art world--and the subject of an article in the Houston Press about how hard it was to be a Hispanic artist in Houston. As far as I could determine, his last exhibit was in 2002.
Ibsen Espada, Winter Dragon, mixed meda on canvas, 2011
Looking at his new exhibit at New Gallery/Thom Andriola, I'd say Espada has come roaring back. This work has real power and vigor. To me, it reminds me of pre-drip Jackson Pollock. The restricted color scheme of Winter Dragon, combined with the thick brushstrokes and swirly all-over composition, really make this work for me. This is my favorite piece from the show.
Ibsen Espada, Victory, mixed meda on canvas, 2011
One thing Espada does that few abstract expressionists did is collage his own canvases. He did it in Winter Dragon, and the effect was subtle. It is much less subtle in Victory. With Victory, it appear that he cut up three or four separate, very distinct canvases to create this collage. It may be the collage element that separates him from his artistic ancestors. Collage strikes me as intellectual and not instinctive. It is less perfomative than abstract expressionism.It has a deliberate quality that balances out the slashing energy of the painted parts.
Ibsen Espada, Sparticus, mixed meda on canvas, 2011
Ultimately, Espada's master is Pollock. Espada's handling of paint is similar to that in Pollock's Mural. Espada's collaging of his canvases, particularly in Sparticus, creates a kind of boxed-off composition similar to Pollock's The Guardians of the Secret. The thick swirling blacks of Winter Dragon recall Pollock's Number 11. What's interesting to me is that Espada hasn't gone all in and tried to use drip technique.
Ibsen Espada, El Mirador, mixed meda on canvas, 2011
A lot of people would say, what more does this dated style, abstract expressionism, have to say to us? What relevance does the hero artist, contending with the void, slashing away with color, have today? There are all kinds of reasons not to do abstract expressionist paintings in 2011. But for Ibsen Espada, there is one good reason to keep doing them. They work.