Notes of Persistent Awe
Columns by Benjamin Terrell
Jovencio de la Paz
by Benjamin Terrell
Installation view of Jovencio de la Paz's solo show, Cumulative Shadow, at Holding Contemporary in Portland, Oregon.
(all photos by Mario Gallucci)
Portland is a flag flown at half mast, a tent that sleeps six sitting on a slender sidewalk, a boarded-up business that used to offer views of the park. I have often wondered, is that city to the north of me one step closer to an edge or to a promised land? Or is Eugene itself edging out of the big picture, lost somewhere between forest and field. But Portland, Portland is a boxer given too much girth and gravity, pushed repeatedly to the ropes and then left alone on the canvas. Perhaps the decade itself is deciding whether it will recover or remain like the old man with a mask over mouth but not nose- partially protected and in dense denial. Maybe we are all still symbolically only one poke into a larger two shot solution. I.e., half healed.
Jovencio de la Paz, A languid meter, 2021 TC2 handwoven cotton, canvas, acrylic, 48" x 48"
Unexpected events of the last few years can feel like cosmic commentary aimed at us, or maybe like nature's version of the imperfections added to traditional Islamic pattern. Author Amy Goldin describes the intentional addition of "flaws" to pattern as an Islamic artist's "demonstration of the irrelevance of perfect form." It is human to cling and to control, but if we are like "art that aims at perfection" then, like Goldin describes, we "cannot easily tolerate any addition, subtraction or displacement." Perhaps accepting and resisting aren't opposites- rather, signs of egoic inbreath and exhale illuminating us somewhere in the middle. Goldin also writes that pattern is determined not by the motif but by the spaces between. Which is to say, strength comes from an unknown, nameless place between structure and order.
Jovencio de la Paz, Bionumeric Organisms, 2020, TC2 handwoven cotton and canvas,
36" x 24"
Creativity can connect and cure as long as it contains two parts. First, the ability to sit with the unknown, because transformation happens outside of what we know. We are nightguards to mystery, but if our unknowns are parceled out, we also give away our infinite possibility. Second, making a safe place for contradiction to exist, because growth happens outside the doorway of our avoidance. If certainty is the soil of necessity (accept what is right, deny what is wrong) we cut ourselves off from root and fruit. To acknowledge that we are containers of both is to ripen in humility. And if the skin is made thin the fruit is at its most flavorful.
Portland’s art galleries are then the farm stand to Oregon’s creative orchard and the weavings of Jovencio De La Paz are certainly not fruit found on the lowest branches. De La Paz’s pieces, seen at Holding Contemporary until May 29th, require some reaching, the full sun of an optimistic mind and an eye for beauty abstracted. Textile art is often born from (or reacting against) necessity, involves pattern as pathway to and from its process and (consider the loom is much older than pen or brush) contains hallmarks of its own history. All are interests held in attentive hands- De La Paz is a professor and head of the fiber department at the University of Oregon. For De La Paz, tradition doesn’t appear as a concern, rather it is like cloud cover and costume to be admired and then shed in favor of wide-open unembellished truth.
Jovencio de la Paz, Shade 1.1, 2020, TC2 handwoven textiles, cotton and raffia,
42" x 28 1/2"
De La Paz’s exhibition is entitled Cumulative Shadow, a reference to the inability of a computer- based loom to render shadow. For the artist, the digital incapacity is one piece of the poetry of instability and a short staircase to a sacred place for thinking about issues of heritage, history and “speculative futures.” Learning that the artist employs computer technology doesn’t disconnect any sincerity or set up a man versus machine spectator sport. Instead, it intrigues as an infinity of possibility, is reminiscent of a bowerbird built nest or is like Mort Garson making moog music strictly for plants to enjoy (sewn and shown organically to itself). Also, to imagine the digital world even briefly as incapable of anything might offer some sense of privacy or feel like putting tape over the lenses of everything that currently tracks us.
Jovencio de la Paz, Bionumeric Organisms 1.1 (The Lotus & the Rose), 2021, TC2 handwoven textiles, and canvas, cotton, wool, 64" x 71"
Amy Goldin writes that artists who begin with the grid usually proceed to destroy it. When de la Paz dismantles pattern and places it next to another pattern, like with "The Lotus and the Rose" (above), he reveals an untapped potentiality. In the piece, two patterns appear edited and unaligned, separate faint mandalas that, if overlapped, might cancel each other out. Goldin also wrote that pattern confronted with other pattern "evokes the presence of hidden laws and an infinity of legitimate, unexpressed possibilities."
Take a piece like Biometric Organisms 1.0 (see below)- a fragment of dissolving pattern sewn to a neutral canvas stretched and displayed like a painting. Appearing like part relic and part computation on colored cloth, it is as much a means of measurement as it designs itself in a process of being decoded. Picture a pinecone as a mystical map containing a code for understanding consciousness, or imagine the grand topography of a Mark Bradford painting infused with the intimate hatching lines of Vija Celmins. Like other works in the show, Biometric Organism employs a layout of a minority of image on a majority of blank space that, when stared at, creates an illusion of figure-ground flip. To also imagine what “isn’t” is to entertain the infinite and to articulate the unknown.
Jovencio de la Paz, Bionumeric Organisms 1.0, 2021, TC2 handwoven textiles and canvas, cotton, wool, 54" x 54"
Cumulative Shadow consists of five large textile pieces and three lithographs. The lithographs, found in the back of the gallery, at first may feel like cracking the code of De La Paz’s pondering. The optical designs expressed feel like dream boards to feed the digital for a payout of its inability to express like us. But that breakdown is only a beginning, an analog imagining of the infinite, an inherent opportunity to re-employ all the senses. It is an invitation to feel outside what language limits us to express. For us, in shadow as in light, vulnerability is the pearl of our humanity.
Jovencio de la Paz, Didderen 4.2, CSP 20-110 three-color lithograph on Somerset satin white, collaborating with master printer Judith Baumann, 30" x 22 1/4" paper,
22 7/16" x 16 5/16" image, edition of 12
Jovencio de la Paz, Didderen 4.1, CSP 20-109 Three-color lithograph on Somerset satin white, collaborating with master printer Judith Baumann, 29.5" x 22" paper,
21 5/16" x 16" image, edition of 12
Installation view of Cumulative Shadow and Holding Contemporary.