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John Yau (Art Forum)




Abstractionists working in a painterly, post-Minimalist manner -an approach that combines a pared-down, abstract vocabulary with either expressive brushwork or Pop art's theatricality- can be divided into two groups: those who are demonstrating abstraction's continuing vitality and those who are simply nostalgic for its high-toned rhetoric.


Jaime Franco -a young abstract artist who lives and works in Colombia is neither reverent nor cynical with respect to achievements of postwar painting. He contributes to abstraction's renewal without proc1aiming himself as either its savior or its liquidator.


Franco's paintings simultaneously develop and subvert the grid in a kind of painterly give-and-take whereby linear assertions are obscured with scumbling or layering and then augmented by further elaborations. One senses that Franco wants his grids to go beyond historical precedents, to function as more than allover networks or decorative patterning. Rather than opting for variations on a theme -an approach worked to death by older abstract painters such as Jake Berthot and Sean Scully- Franco approaches the grid as a convention that can be developed in ways that are simultaneously internally consistent and self questioning. In this regard he has more in common with Richard Diebenkorn and Brice Marden. Like these artists, Franco initiates a dialogue wherein he asks how much his abstract vocabulary can suggest before it becomes overtly referential.


Whereas Frank Stella worked from edge to edge in his "black" paintings, Franco layers his imagery. In Untitled, 1990, a brown ocher frame holds the blackish grid in place while undercutting its alloverness. The result is a painterly palimpsest -a working-out of the artist's ambivalent relationship to the grid. His process of layering enables him to recall Piet Mondrian's obsession with placement, concern with balance and asymmetry, and sensitivity to the tension between color's expansiveness and the restraining black architectonic grids, without becoming Mondrianesque. If, as certain formalist readings have asserted, Mondrian pushed the grid to the limit of referentiality, and various postwar American artists pushed the grid to the extremes of selfreferentiality, Franco belongs to the generation of younger artists who approach the grid as a conflicted sign that is simultaneously referential and self-referential.


Franco extends the parameters of a tradition of geometric abstraction originated by the Uruguayan Modernist Joaquin Torres Garcia. Along with the Venezuelan painter Sigfredo Chacón and the Argentinian painter/sculptor Miguel Angel Rios, he demonstrates not only the grid's continued vitality, but the strength of art that is currently being made in South America by South Americans.



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