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Cover image detail: Galactic Galakto, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 26 in (76 x 66 cm) Photo by Joan Pamboukes


Essay by Mary Birmingham

539 West 23rd Street | | 212.675.0222

Grandfather’s painting, Mario Suarez, ca. 1980, house paint on board.

The first time I visited Omar Chacon’s studio he showed me a small painting that his grandfather, Mario Suarez, had made in their native Colombia. Suarez, who was not a trained artist, created this abstract work by dripping house paint onto cardboard in an overall pattern of colorful dots. Perhaps a casual experiment by a talented amateur, the painting nonetheless became an important lodestar for Chacon, encouraging and empowering him to explore abstraction. As I followed Chacon’s career over the last ten years, the image of that painting stayed with me. The materiality of paint, the use of the drip as a picture-building method, the attention to surface texture, and the aggregation of repeated small units of form and color are strategies Chacon has consistently employed in his work—and these foundational elements are all present in his grandfather’s seminal painting.

The title of Chacon’s current show, Ohio Criollo, pays homage to this early influence and also acknowledges his ongoing friendship with his former teacher, Steven McCallum, an Ohio-based artist Chacon calls “a color genius.” Their long-distance dialogue that began while Chacon was in graduate school continues to inform his work, especially as he investigates the theory and orchestration of color. Recent conversations with McCallum encouraged Chacon to go “back to the basics,” and inspired several new paintings for this show, each exploring a single color. The term “criollo” refers to a person from South or Central America—particularly one of pure Spanish descent and is a nod to Chacon’s (and his grandfather’s) Colombian heritage. Recognizing their roles in shaping his vision, he jokingly refers to these two men as his “art parents.”

Ich Liebe Green…Bogota Emerald Green, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 26 in (76 x 66cm) Photo by Joan Pamboukes

Chacon also draws fresh inspiration from his everyday life and surroundings. Born in Bogota, Colombia, he has lived in or visited numerous places around the world and many of his paintings respond to his visual experiences. Following a recent residency in Berlin, for instance, he felt compelled to make a green painting, somehow connecting his ideas about the energy of Berlin with his memories of Bogota. Ich Liebe Green...Bogota Emerald Green weaves these impulses together in a mosaic-like pattern of collaged paint. While the materiality of the emerald green surface dominates, Chacon allows bits of the hot pink underpainting to shine through small gaps, creating a spatial and chromatic dialogue between surface and ground. This is a recent innovation for the artist, who is already well known for his painstaking technique of transferring individual drips of acrylic paint onto the surface of a canvas.

He also uses this approach in Thinking of Ghana, constructing the work with countless small rectangles of paint. Inspired by colors he associates with Africa, the painting’s gridded organization resembles the vibrant woven kente cloth of Ghana. Chacon revisited these colors in another work, Libia No Mas, but instead employed his drip method—a technique he continues to refine.

Thinking of Ghana, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 26 in (76 x 66 cm) Photo by Joan Pamboukes

Libia No Mas, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 42 in (137 x 107 cm) Photo by Etienne Frossard

Galaktobochueco, 2018, acrylic on paper, framed 26.5 x 35 in (67 x 86 cm) Photo by Joan Pamboukes

For Chacon, anything in his environment may spark an idea for a painting. His current neighborhood of Astoria, Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse in the world, and an ideal place for an artist who is receptive to social and cultural stimuli. Visiting a Greek bakery in Astoria, Chacon was fascinated by a dessert called galaktoboureko, a creamy custard pie that derives its name from “gala,” the Greek word for milk. The artist, who delights in wordplay, recognized its relationship to the word “galaxy” (rooted in the Greek word “galaxias,” or “milky way”) and he decided to make several “galactic” paintings. Returning to his own roots, he employed a technique from earlier in his career, dripping small dots of paint onto a flat surface just as his grandfather had. Chacon scattered these shiny circles of varying sizes and colors against a matte black background to create a celestial field that juxtaposes darkness and luminosity. He titled the work Galaktobochueco—a play on the original “galaktoboureko”—substituting an invented Spanish word. He explains, “Chueco means crooked so it kind of makes the appropriation a bit crooked itself. I just loved the word when I heard it.” This mash-up of language and ideas epitomizes Chacon’s natural comfort with widely divergent cultural ephemera.

Occasionally the impulse to make a painting comes from older art. In speaking to artists who, like Chacon, work in color abstraction, I am often moved by their deep understanding of the colors in Old Master paintings. An avid museum-goer,




interested in the chromatic choices made by Lucas





Renaissance artist—in his painting of Saint Maurice in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This stunning full-length portrait presents the saint in a magnificent goldtrimmed suit of silver armor. Chacon was so taken with the interplay between these two metals (and Cranach’s selection of a dazzling orange to represent the gold tone) that he decided to explore them in a new painting he calls A La Cranach. Comprising only two colors— orange and silver—the painting examines both spatial and color relationships. The orange underpainting glows from behind silver drops of paint







dimensional drips catch and reflect light like the jeweled embellishments on the saint’s armor. By allowing space between the drips, Chacon effectively orchestrates the movement of color and light.

Image: Lucas Cranach the Elder and Workshop, Saint Maurice, ca. 1520-25, Oil on linden, 54 x 15.5 in (137 x 39 cm), collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Left, detail image of Lucas Cranach’s Saint Maurice, ca. 1520-25. Right, detail image of Omar Chacon’s A La Cranach, 2018

While it is interesting to consider some of the people, places, and experiences that have helped shape his career, it is also important to acknowledge the unique filter through which Chacon processes everything. The exhibition title, Ohio Criollo, not only refers to the twin influences (genetic and educational) on his artistic vision; it also symbolizes his strong attachment to Colombia and the United States. Speaking with Chacon or viewing his work, one is able to feel the passion with which he embraces art and life. This mix seems elemental, as if it’s in the blood. I thought about all of this when I saw the last painting Chacon made for his show—a monochromatic red work titled Venas Abiertas (Open Veins). Like many of his paintings, this one conveys an exuberance that overtakes the senses. Its dense and glistening surface is composed of countless drips of paint in varying shades of red, each one suggesting a drop of blood. It seems to pulsate with a rhythm and heat that is tropical. This is a passionate painting, suggesting life and death. Blood that flows is a living force, but blood that spills is deadly.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.” One could easily say the same of Omar Chacon.

Mary Birmingham is the curator of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.

Venas Abiertas, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 54 x 44 in (137 x 112 cm) Photo by Etienne Frossard

OMAR CHACON | OHIO CRIOLLO January 10 – February 23

Catalogue © 2019 Margaret Thatcher Projects Artwork © Omar Chacon Text © 2019 Mary Birmingham Photography by Etienne Frossard and Joan Pamboukes Catalogue design by Kimberly Henderson

539 West 23rd Street | | 212.675.0222

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