Four Artists, Four Geometries
By John Yau
William Fares, Pascual Hijuelos, Gene Johnson, and Alberto Lenz are four geometric abstract artists who live and work in San Miguel de Allende. With its many baroque and neoclassical buildings, the city has been a destination for artists at least since 1938, when it opened its first art school. Diego Rivera worked in San Miguel de Allende, and David Alfaro Siqueiros taught painting at the Escuela de Bellas Artes. Siqueiros’ presence attracted foreign art students after World War II, including former American soldiers studying under the G.I. Bill. It has been estimated that expatriates make up twenty percent of the current population.
Before migrating to San Miguel de Allende, Fares, Hijuelos, and Johnson lived, worked, and exhibited in New York for many years. Lenz moved from another part of Mexico. No doubt, their reasons for moving to San Miguel de Allende are similar: it is an affordable, picturesque city that is receptive to art and artists. However, despite their shared interests, the four artists first met only about a year ago and decided to form their own group.
The sensibility these artists share is geometric abstraction, which is universal and local, ancient and postmodern. It was central to both the invention and rise of abstract art in the 20th century, but forms of it are found in nearly every culture.
Geometric abstraction has long played a central role in Latin American art, ever since Joaquin Torres-Garcia returned to Montevideo from Paris in 1934. As the work of Fares, Hijuelos, Johnson, and Lenz demonstrates, there are many currents to draw from, as well as build upon, which is to say that these artists believe that geometric abstraction to be as inexhaustible as language itself, and I see no evidence to the contrary. And, like a language—be it English Spanish, or Portuguese—it still contains innumerable possibilities for inventiveness and discovery.
These four artists regard painting as a philosophical enterprise, a way of reflecting upon the nature of reality and perception. Their work runs the gamut from the optical to the textured to the atmospheric, and from fragments and lines to complete figures (circles and squares). Influenced by Minimalism and its concomitant insistence on the literal, these artists pared their work down to what they considered absolutely essential. However, in contrast to the Minimalist credo, as summarized by Frank Stella’s famous declaration, “What you see is what you see,” these artists did not accept literalism as the ultimate goal. They are after something more elusive than a purely optical experience.