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The exhibition Simplicity is the Glory of Expression is a solo presentation by Mexican artist Eduardo Terrazas (b.1936).
The Danish writer and artist Erik Steffensen has written an essay on Terrazas’ practise for the exhibition.
They say there are only two kinds of men: men of the sea and men of the soil. Men of the sea distinguish themselves by exploring the world and having the ability to move and adapt to new situations, work in foreign climes and, perhaps, stir up trouble in their wake. They are the type that jumps from one thing to the other, which, say, can be hard to square with a family situation. The man of the soil, conversely, embodies stability and continuity, the ability to plough the same field over and over again, attaining a kind of perfection and putting bread on the table. You can trust the man of the soil, but it can be hard for him to physically leave his native land, the family farm, perhaps also mentally and politically. Of course, there is something of each in every man. The longing to experience and encapsulate the unfamiliar may well exist alongside a desire to see the local community and the home thrive.
The Mexican artist Eduardo Terrazas (b. 1936) is not tied to the land, and yet. He has travelled more than most, but his style is not only so Latin American but so Mexican, local even, that this in itself compels interest in the global system. He is a citizen of the world, leaving his imprint, which plainly grows from cultural roots. In his work, there are colours that could probably only have been derived from a defined folkloric culture, and materials, like wool yarn, that seem to come from applied art rather than the fine arts tradition. The 81-year-old artist has produced a worldly and sizable body of work over his career, to growing international acclaim in recent years. He has created his artworks and developed his practice in dialogue with the world around him. They hold a social perspective, though his aesthetics are so consistent and brilliant that they can balance out the issues of the world. His vocabulary is tight and geometric. He is a thinker, and there is a thought behind everything he does. At the root of his various series are theories of societal growth and statistics. Concerned for humankind, Terrazas makes his individual artistic case for what art can do to make the world better. He is, after all, a member of the generation of 1968, and an exceptional one at that. He was one of the main artists behind the Olympic design in 1968 when Mexico hosted the games. If you cannot recall the tight, beautiful logo, it is worth Googling. It is extremely pure in style, as are the paintings that followed.
Terrazas was 32 in 1968, and he could have called it quits right then and there. The Olympic Games were the young architect-trained artist’s claim to fame. He could do it all, and he learned from everything, including from contemporary American painters. His work in architecture and design created a platform, but the cornerstone had been laid locally, invoking the indigenous craft tradition of the Huichol people of North Central Mexico near Guadalajara, where Terrazas was born. The expertise inherent in their way of decorating, famously with yarn, became a pillar of his imagery and vocabulary. Their feminine, forceful touch is unmistakable. In Denmark, around the same time, Poul Gernes (1925 -1996), helped by his wife, Aase Seidler Gernes (b. 1927), was trying to do something similar. But while the Danish artist moved from painting into the shared space of society, the opposite was true for Terrazas. His assignment was to present authentic Mexico, with all its traditions, in a modern wrapper, and the context was global, via TV transmissions. All eyes were on the summer games, and the geometry and ritual asceticism of the logo and the design exposed Terrazas’s idea of the importance of the local in the universal. It is likely the most beautiful design ever in Olympic history. Simplicity Is the Glory of Expression characterizes Eduardo Terrazas’s work to this day.
No wonder the new art scene is embracing Terrazas’s art. Pouring his pioneering work into a broad field of architecture, design, urban planning and art, he truly embodies what Marcel Duchamp heralded as the artist for the new age, “a jack of all trades.” Today, when Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967) runs a studio with a big staff, he is undertaking a similar kind of work and practice, though with the difference that Terrazas is persistently concerned with the category and domain of painting, no matter what material he is employing. This is evident in Possibilities of a Structure, a series of works he began in the 1970s. The series has sprouted and grown in different directions and subthemes, including Cosmos, Nine Circles and Diagonals. The importance of discipline and care in giving shape to the work is plain to see. Solid craftsmanship stands out amid the systemic variation on individual groups of subjects.
Do forms and geometry really have a universal language and significance? Making the cosmos your concern or the title of a body of work is easy. Terrazas is a thinker who creates. His universality lies in his very approach to making new statements, and meaning follows in turn. We see yarn, paint and a way of fabricating a pattern as equally singular. Western civilization, if that is still a thing, has tended to look down on the spiritual “knitting” and imagery of folklore. But they are the foundation of our identity. The tool that is close at hand is close to the spirit. Terrazas has chosen to refine some of these traditional techniques and situate them in the “elevated” context of art. Through his work, we discover, or feel, the art of weaving and the culture of the 50,000 strong Huichols. We discover that there is a connection and a thread from heart to heart, between people, with the artist simply deciding to act as a catalyst of cultures. So it is. Terrazas early on understood that the assignment wasn’t his studio’s but his country’s and his culture’s. He is a cosmopolitan visionary, which everyone who wants to, can be. As peoples vote out of communities, the artist is trying to create unities.
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