Peripheries Vol. 1: Selected works by Samuel Riera
Samuel Riera's subtly coded canvases and intimately-scaled drawings from botanical pigments push the limits of abstract language while inviting viewers to explore the possibilities of seeing.
Thomas Nickles Project is pleased to announce the first solo show with the gallery of Samuel Riera: Peripheries Vol. I: Selected Works by Samuel Riera. The exhibition will showcase both small and large-scale works from two different series: Analytical Boards and Evolving Natura. Developed between 2012 and 2020, the works depict Riera's ability to create from the awareness that art is fundamentally, a force for change, a powerful tool to evolve into a nonhierarchical, decentralized understanding of culture— a leveling device, a shredder of boundaries.
Seemingly opposed subjects such as obsolescence, metaphysics and sustainability find common ground in the artist’s imaginary: obsolescence as a metaphor for immobility, metaphysics as the coordinates of an inward journey and sustainability as hope for change, evolution, and growth. Canvases and drawing are infused throughout the exhibition with the belief that an artwork can be both a privilege and a service. Challenging the traditional definition of painting, Riera’s geometric compositions on canvas and paper engage with a wide spectrum of creative production, including fine art, craft, design, and outsider art. While Riera’s non-conformist attitude aligns with those of 20th century abstractionists, the artist’s work can also be understood in relation to contemporary issues surrounding food scarcity, censorship, and cultural and social exclusivism.
About Analytical Boards, the artist has stated: “A series of abstractions simulating the action of obsolete technologies that produce coded registers in color and lines, through faded aesthetic models. This visual metaphor comprises a range of ideas linked to prevailing social schemes and models in Cuba, such as control, violence, censorship, or the impossibility of conceiving a better future”. Analytical Boards becomes a report of the artist’s reality in the form of interwoven layers of color and washes of abstraction, mapping the coordinates of a subconscious journey. These paintings include personal sigils known only to the author forming complex sacred geometrics of balance and symmetry. A secret with which to rethink and assume his own history: "unstructured images as our society itself is, non-figurative fragments reflecting a collective social thought under continuous siege, sectioned by perpetual separations".
The process of producing these paintings involves several stages, Riera remarks: “the work begins by completely covering the canvas with a layer of matte black smoke color. On this well-covered surface, I draw a graphic idea, using a point (burin, needle, or nail) to scrape over the surface of the work, tracing lines that make different patterns and structures visible. The actions of tearing and marking presuppose themselves as inevitable, so that the trace - mark, pain, sorrow - left on the canvas is always present. The design is also part of the formal construction of the work when I choose segments of tones, values and colors, to be later corrected and sanded - again the action of ruining, decomposing - not allowing any brightness and de-centering the visual control of the frontal foregrounds”.
Samuel Riera's paintings in Analytical Boards speak in a language of idiosyncrasy and nuance, evoking a wide range of emotions, yet resisting excessive narrative. His paintings offer roads for thought, acting as portals through which the viewer is invited to expand their own experience. His unconventional processes which underscore the relationship between the viewer, the artwork, and the spaces they inhabit can be assumed, as a common thread, throughout Samuel's career as an artist and cultural agent. His voice can be more fully understood in relation to his work as a patron of Art Brut and Outsider Art in Cuba, Samuel paints in the same space that he offers to others to exist as creators. In the Cuban cultural context, ART BRUT PROJECT CUBA run by Riera and his partner Derbis Campos encourage and promote decentralized creation and maintain an active space in Havana for workshops and exhibitions.
As part of this initiative, with long and open arms, Evolving Natura was a project conceived in the face of the social challenges and confinement conditions imposed by COVID-19 with the main purpose of creating lines of artistic work supported by elements of resilience and environmental sustainability; as well as the generation of awareness in favor of urban agriculture, food safety practices and the art-environment relationship. Evolving Natura brought together three distinguishable bodies of work: Plant-based sculptures and installations created through the cultivation of in-situ sprouts and microgreens combined with non-living elements like wood, glass and cement, Eco-printings using wilds plants collected in different areas of the city and Drawings and Analogic Alternative Photographs using natural pigments and photosensitive emulsions extracted from wildflowers and fruits. The drawings exhibited in the gallery were made by Riera as part of this initiative. They are abstract and meditative exercises, of subtle delicacy, that celebrate their botanical sources in lines, patterns and colors, the result of the artist's immersion in natural dyes.
Peripheries Vol. 1. Selected Works by Samuel Riera examines the affinities, dialogues, and divergences that cut across these bodies of works. Both the exhibition itself -being the first of a program, Peripheries, that aims to examine what defines contemporary Cuban art and its limits- and the work of Samuel Riera collapse the hierarchies of disciplines, interrogating the boundaries that separate art from action. For Riera, abstract forms can possess the power to contain personal and collective histories. His practice, however, extends from the canvas or the paper, to justice as a creative state, the justice of offering others a place in the world.