Materiality and Abstraction

Materiality and Abstraction

Mallorca-born abstract artist Alejandro Javaloyas is based in Toulouse. He employs a minimalist approach to delve into the sculptural potential of a painting surface, and utilises veneered plywood as a canvas as well as an integral part of creative expression.

A: In Issue 118 of Aesthetica, we display Light Magenta Circle Against Blush – Violet Gradient Background. How does this piece help you to express the sculptural potential of a painting surface?
The piece leverages the shape of a bent veneered plywood arch to explore the sculptural dimensions of a painting. This small-format work breaks away from the traditional flat canvas by offering a convex surface that defies conventional wall mounting. In doing so, it aligns with the explorations of colour field and post-minimalist artists like Ron Gorchov, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd and contemporaries such as Otis Jones and Ernesto Burgos.

Choosing a compact 30 x 40cm size is deliberate, enhancing the work’s portability and interactive potential. Collectors or curators can experiment with its placement – whether against a wall, on a bookshelf or atop a stack of books – thus engaging with the piece in various dynamic contexts. This interplay of form and function effectively blurs the boundaries between painting, sculpture and design object.

A: What is the process behind the creation of the piece?
The creation of this work begins with crafting the canvas itself, inspired by a technique I adapted from DIY skateboard-making videos on YouTube. The process involves layering eight to ten Beech tree wood veneers, gluing them together and then placing them between a custom-made foam mould. I then vacuum-seal this assembly in a plastic bag to apply pressure.

After a week, once the glue has set, I remove the panel from the bag. This results in a uniquely bent plywood panel that requires further preparation: cutting, sanding, drilling, and priming, before I can begin painting. The meticulous approach to these pieces serves as both a formal study and a personal exploration of colour juxtaposition, combinations, and the development of my chromatic palette.

A: Bending, cutting, drilling and polishing – materiality and its process is such an integral part of your work. Why?
Materiality and its manipulation are central to my work, particularly in my recent shift toward post-minimal art. Previously, my art was much busier, reflecting the overwhelming noise and stimuli that bombard artists both in real life and digitally. Over time, I became dissatisfied with this approach, as I naturally gravitated towards creating quieter, more immanent, and atmospheric pieces.

A quote from John McLean resonated deeply with me: “I think with my own work that the simpler I can make it, in a strange way, the more profound I feel it is.” This insight was pivotal, as it prompted me to strip my practice down to essentials, focusing on the elemental shape of the circle while eliminating unnecessary decorative elements.

This simplification brought me to a crucial realisation about the canvas itself: it’s indispensable as the support for painting, but why just view it as a background? I began to see the canvas as an active participant in my artwork. Reshaping the canvas became necessary not only to develop a distinctive artistic identity but also to underscore the simplicity of my pieces. Sanding and polishing the edges of my works are deliberate choices that allow viewers to appreciate not just the painted surface but the layered wood, enhancing their understanding of the work’s material dimensions.

A: What relevance is the use of abstraction when painting the surface of the sculptured canvas?
That’s an intriguing question because it reflects a perspective quite different from my own. I don’t view myself as someone who paints on sculptural forms. Honestly, I don’t consider myself a sculptor, but rather an abstract post-minimal painter focused on colour field painting.

My formal training in painting was quite traditional and figurative, but my artistic direction changed dramatically during a visit to the Museo Fundación Joan March in Palma de Mallorca, my hometown. This museum houses an impressive collection of Spanish informalist art, featuring post-war painters like Fernando Zóbel, Antoni Tàpies and Eduardo Chillida, among others.

This experience was a gateway to discovering French tachisme, American abstract expressionism, and eventually minimalism and colour field painting. These influences catalysed my shift towards abstraction. I view my current work with bent plywood as creating preconceived abstract paintings that are bent to break away from the traditional flat canvas. This approach is not about painting on a sculptural piece, but rather about transforming the canvas itself to challenge and extend the boundaries of traditional painting surfaces, as well as to push the object dimension of the painting itself.

A: What significance do circles and negative spaces play in the painting work? Why is the sphere of such interest to you?
The circle is central to my current artistic practice. In my efforts to simplify my visual language, I realised that the circle, along with related forms like spheres and dots, were motifs I continuously returned to and chose to retain. I’m drawn to the circle’s unique geometric properties – it’s the only two-dimensional shape formed by a single continuous line, originating from a fixed centre and defined by all points equally distant from that centre. This characteristic imbues the circle with a sense of movement, making it an intriguing element in a typically static medium.

The circle’s adaptability on different scales allows it to shift between being seen as a circumference, circle, hole or dot, and to oscillate between serving as positive or negative space, thus adding or subtracting volume. This versatility extends into its philosophical and aesthetic interpretations. For instance, an ellipse might appear as a circle’s shadow or projection, echoing Plato’s ideas of forms and shadows or Kant’s distinctions between phenomena and noumena.

My exploration of circles and negative spaces in my work is not only about embracing simplicity and geometric beauty but also about engaging with the circle’s profound symbolic qualities of circularity, renewal, and the infinite, encouraging viewers to explore its existential and sociological meanings.

A: What about the use of colour?
Colour plays a pivotal role in my artwork, primarily serving as a means to explore juxtapositions, combinations, and contrasts while I develop my own personal chromatic palette. I have a particular affinity for gradients; they provide a visual satisfaction and carry rich metaphorical meanings. Although I didn’t pursue a degree in Fine Arts, instead attending Film School in Barcelona, my cinematic education deeply influences how I perceive and construct images.

Film is compelling largely due to its transformative elements, where characters evolve to overcome challenges and achieve their initial goal. Similarly, gradients in painting suggest movement and transformation within a static medium, shifting from one hue to another and implying a progression or narrative flow. This element of change hints at a temporal dimension, adding a layer to the experience.

Ian McKeever’s observation resonates with me: “Everyone thinks the painting is somehow about space, but I think it’s much more about time.” This statement encapsulates my approach to colour and gradients. These elements are not just about creating a sense of space; they’re about capturing the latent time within a painting, inviting viewers to engage with both the visual and temporal complexities.

A: How do you achieve such delicate gradients of colour, for example in Light Magenta Circle Against Light Flesh-Yellow-Mint Gradient Background?
Many people mistakenly assume that I use paint guns, airbrushes, or spray paints for my works. However, for the bent plywood paintings like Light Magenta Circle Against Light Flesh-Yellow-Mint Gradient Background I rely solely on traditional brushes. The process begins with priming the surface with gesso followed by a layer of white acrylic paint. Once this base is thoroughly dry, I start the gradient work.

I use heavily pigmented acrylic paints, which are naturally quite opaque. To achieve the smooth, seamless gradients, I have to thin the paint with a mixture of medium and water, which initially makes it more translucent than I prefer. This requires multiple layers to deepen the colour. Each gradient is painted and allowed to dry, typically between five to eight times, applying glazes to gradually saturate the pigmentation until the desired intensity and smoothness are reached.

A: Comparatively speaking, how did it feel execute the painting work in Nine Ultramarine Blue Lines Against Titan White Background?
Working on this piece felt quite different from my usual process. This piece was created using an airbrush, aligning more with the gestural style of my earlier works. The approach is fresher and quicker, allowing for more spontaneity in execution. However, this method also introduces greater risk. For example, in the series that includes this piece, I produced ten works but only two met my standards; I discarded the other eight. While the airbrush technique speeds up the painting process, it sacrifices some control, making the outcome less predictable.

A: What is the thinking behind Five Holes, Five Hues of Green, Five Bent Squares, for example?
This piece extends the gradient concept differently from my other works. Instead of a single continuous piece, this artwork comprises five independent squares, each a colour block that together explores the gradient idea sequentially. While the overall effect differs, the core concepts remain: bending the painting surface, exploring the dot, and developing the gradient. It allows me to play with the same themes in a modular format, offering a fresh take on my exploration of shape and colour transition.

A: What does it mean for you when you experiment with different surfaces, as seen in Yellow Rectangle on Six White Bent Wood Strips?
Experimenting with different surfaces, as demonstrated in this piece marks the beginning of a new exploratory direction in my work. It was the first I created in my studio, and I further developed this concept during my recent residency at LA BIBI Gallery. I am fascinated by children’s wooden building blocks – their playfulness and the potential to transform them into a dynamic painting surface. These blocks can be deconstructed and reassembled into various configurations, leading to different visual outcomes. This approach challenges the traditional, static nature of canvas and blurs the boundaries between painting, sculpture, game and design object. It’s a new path that I am eager to explore further.

A: Do you see works such as L’Ombre d’Hércalite and This Book Cover is Mine an exploratory departure from the plywood works, or are they part of the same idea-led approach?
Works like these definitely represent a departure from my plywood pieces. The use of cardboard, which is more malleable and can be manually bent, drilled and cut, sparked a realisation for me. It showed that the techniques I developed with plywood could be applied to more traditional, “noble” materials. This exploration was a pivotal moment, as it expanded my approach to include a wider variety of materials while maintaining the same conceptual rigour.

A: Why books and book covers?
I found abandoned books on the streets of Toulouse. These discarded objects, aged and deteriorated by humidity and neglect, caught my attention. I discovered that the inner side of book covers often resembles colour field paintings: a colour block adorned with a random, aleatory patina that lends complexity and nuance to the surface. With minimal intervention, these covers transform into compelling sketches and art pieces. This process of repurposing overlooked objects plays with the idea of giving new purpose to what is often disregarded, enhancing the aesthetic and conceptual value of everyday materials.

A: You recently completed an artist residency at LA BIBI Gallery, Palma de Mallorca. How has the experience shaped your practice?
My residency has been a transformative experience. It’s situated in a beautifully renovated old warehouse in Establiments, a quaint village just outside Palma. This idyllic location, nestled in the countryside with views of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, has provided an endless source of inspiration – a true painter’s dream.

The studio’s design, featuring large windows and a glass roof, floods the space with natural light, further enhanced by the Mediterranean climate. Being able to witness both sunrise and sunset from my workspace, accompanied by the sound of birds, offered a serene environment vastly different from my usual setting in Toulouse.

Free from the usual distractions of daily life, like work, social obligations, and household duties, I found myself in a state of semi-isolation that greatly boosted my productivity and creativity. Over the course of the month, I had the freedom and resources to experiment more playfully and create pieces that I could not have conceived in my regular studio.

A: How has the environment – the light and space – helped to shape the new pieces?
It profoundly shaped my artistic process, far beyond what I initially anticipated. Although I typically plan meticulously and arrived with a detailed set of sketches from my studio in Toulouse, my experience here quickly diverged from my expectations. I planned to efficiently produce a new body of work, mindful that the month-long residency would pass swiftly. Yet, the expansive skies visible from the east-facing windows and the stunning sunrises that bathed the landscape in dynamic gradients captured my imagination from the start.

These daily displays of shifting light and colour have deeply influenced the palette of my new pieces. Moving away from the darker, block colours of my recent work in Toulouse, the new creations feature desaturated tones and nuanced gradients that echo the Mallorcan dawn skies. This transition to a lighter, more contextually integrated approach was a natural response to the brilliant and inspiring light of Mallorca.

A: What new techniques did you use pieces such as We must journey on until we find the road of yellow brick again?
The residency has catalysed a significant evolution in my artistic practice, marked by a transition from wall sculptures to what could be described as floor paintings. This shift was largely enabled by the expansive studio space and the uninterrupted time available, which allowed me to push beyond the usual constraints of my typical environment and responsibilities. The pieces you mentioned are emblematic of this new direction.

While these works retain the visual and material consistency of my previous wall-mounted pieces –utilising bent plywood and focusing on a single painted surface – they introduce a new element by being placed on the floor. This change not only enhances spatial interaction but also deepens the exploration of sculptural possibilities within my work. Additionally, positioning these pieces on the floor infuses them with a playful, child-like quality reminiscent of wooden building blocks, marking a positive and natural progression in my practice. This approach pushes the boundaries into previously uncharted territories.

A: Tell me about the lack of colour in this piece as well as in Mécanismes d’abstraction d’une ellipse.
The piece continues my exploration of the tension between various dualities: form and shape, figure and ground, positive and negative space, and the object versus the wall. In this piece, the main visual element, the ellipse, is the only aspect left unpainted. This deliberate choice highlights the natural materiality of the plywood support, drawing attention to the raw textures and inherent qualities of the wood. By leaving the ellipse bare, I aim to underscore the contrast and interplay between the painted and unpainted surfaces, further enriching the dialogue between abstraction and materiality.

A: Will you explore further possibilities within the works you created in the residency, or perhaps do they help inform your sculptural paintings?
Absolutely. The residency provided a fertile ground for creative exploration, where I felt empowered to continue blurring the lines between painting and sculpture. The floor paintings I developed during this time represent a new pathway that I am eager to pursue further. Moving forward, I plan to expand on the concepts and techniques I explored at the residency, continually pushing the boundaries of my work.

A: What additional art projects and exhibitions do you have coming up throughout 2024?
Looking ahead, I’m excited about the diverse opportunities and projects in my calendar. I’m currently featured in a group exhibition at &Gallery in Edinburgh, which has been an enriching experience. I’m also preparing for upcoming group shows in London and Mallorca, each offering a distinct platform to present different aspects of my work.

Additionally, I am anticipating participation in an international art fair, which promises to be an exhilarating opportunity. I warmly invite everyone to visit these exhibitions and to see the new pieces at La BIBI Residency in person. Engaging with art in a tangible space offers a unique experience beyond mere discussion, and I look forward to the interactions and dialogues these opportunities will foster with both new and familiar audiences.

All images courtesy of Alejandro Javaloyas.   |  Instagram: @alejandro_javaloyas

The work of Alejandro Javaloyas appears in Issue 118 of Aesthetica. Click here to visit our shop.