ON OFILL —BY CAROL DAMIAN, EMILIO GARCÍA MONTIEL, ADRIANA HERRERA, EMILIO ICHIKAWA, MADELINE IZQUIERDO, BRENDA J. CARO, THOMAS MORIN, ALEJANDRO ROBLES, GUSTAVO VALDÉS, OSVALDO SÁNCHEZ, AMONG OTHERS.
«Ofill Echevarria’s In Situ» By Emilio Ichikawa.
‘In Situ’ solo show | Centro Cultural ACUDA. Valencia, Spain | Partly published in diariodecuba.com | Feb 2, —2017.
The Gallery of the ACUDA Cultural Centre, Valencia – Spain, presents the exhibition ‘In Situ’ by Ofill Echevarría. The artist investigates, reviews the history of thought and art, makes anthropology. Conceptualizes from the empirical level. That is to say: induce. His studios in Midtown Manhattan have facilitated the fieldwork, the observation. It satisfies Paul Klee’s command to the painter: to find the visible in the visual. He becomes the visionary who encrypts the obvious under beauty. The buildings of Echevarría’s cities are left to be abstracted (universalized) as digital cards, integrated circuits or Mesopotamian writings. The facade of a building in Babylon or New York, is discovered in the work of Echevarría transvestite in legal script of Hammurabi.
Ofill Echevarría runs to Klee but it exhausts him. It goes back from painting to photography and multimedia. It goes from the charcoal of the Industrial Revolution to the illusion of the Digital Revolution. His concept of the social space adds the modern to the futuristic without being distracted by the failed seasons of globalization. In its most recent stage, Echevarría is interested in anthropological research, from which a program of far-reaching social and environmental participation must emerge. The associates of ACUDA and the public are invited to exchange on the vertiginous corners, corridors and tunnels of Echevarría’s cities.
On Friday, January 27 (2017), as part of the exhibition “In Situ”, works as “Looking For Abstraction (At the Jungle)”, a Picture-In-Motion, as well as “The Real World” Series, will be exhibited at the gallery in ACUDA.
‘The Corner’ is a crossing of glances between visitors, passers-by mediated by a digital window and watchmen that from the canvases triangulate the presence. The walkers on screen are in a hurry, the guests act in the gallery, while the neighbors observe dissolved on the web-city. ‘The Corner’ is the vortex that results from a dynamic angle (turbid) guarded by two sides or “legs”.
The triangle, the Pythagorean semi-star of three “corners” in the work of Echevarría, is not equilateral: it is isosceles. The viewer and the actors in “motion pictures” are “congruent sides”, but the supporting base is painting. The painting is the heart of Echevarria. The viscera. His house, his guild, his trade; the lineage to which he belongs. Echevarría seeks, finds and innovates; he is easily given the technological discovery, but he always returns to the matrix of modern art, with the usual teachers.
The eye of Echeverría is the perpendicular that dissects the images in movement. Because it is not about reality and its reflection but about reality and its virtualities; Regenerated reality on a screen where other screens appear, plasmas, puddles of water continents of the walk of a traveler traveling in parallel.
The ACUDA Cultural Association Gallery will include the film ‘Looking For Abstraction (At The Jungle)’ by Echevarría, an atypical “publicity” of the city of New York, which invites you to become shadow and rain to visit it. All New York, in its 800 languages, sounds and colors, confirmed in art. The Real Estate is here the actual state in which the artist’s pictorial visions become habitable. In this sense Echevarría, being a painter, is also a “developmentalist”. With “Looking For Abstraction At The Jungle” reveals that the viewer can become a citizen, resident or tourist. And that the painter has been a stonemason, mason and architect. “Looking for the city at the abstraction” is the obligatory complement of the complex structure of ‘In Situ’.
— 2014 —
«Ofill Echevarria. El Mundo de los Vivos. The Real World. The Gabarron Foundation, New York» By Adriana Herrera.
In Illuminations, Walter Benjamin makes reference to the way in which “architecture represents the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction” through use and through a mode of visual perception that differs from contemplation and from a tactility associated to simple habit. This distraction is even greater when architecture is external and perceived in full movement as one avoids contact with the unceasing “human river” of crowds moving in an uncontrolled flow in large cities.
The work that Ofill Echevarría (Cuba, 1972) has been creating as an endless essay on the people adrift in urban architectures –barely suggested by the bodies that inhabit them – in which it is only possible to see and be seen “in passing” and in a hurry, functions as a whole as an artifact that alters habit and directs our distraction towards another mode of connection with the city and its boiling crowd.
Ofill Echevarria. El mundo de los vivos. The Real World, the exhibition which opened in New York at The Gabarron Foundation, Carriage House Center for the Arts, simultaneously with the launching of the artist’s book published under that same title, is another chapter of the long visual essay that the artist has produced on the vertiginous circulation of people in the cities. A decade ago, in works like David, paradigm of man sculpted by modernism, with eyeglasses and a briefcase and an executive-style suit, his urban portraits captured characters that moved between “the almost divine ecstasy of triumph and the devastating alienation of vertigo”, as Alejandro Robles wrote in the introductory text.
“His having thus discerned alienation in the symbols with which that imaginary of success is built is one of the best-sharpened blades with which Ofill Echavarría dissects not only the complexity of contemporary urban processes but also that blind complicity with which the current logic of the impatient capital is assumed”: such the reflection posed, in turn, by Emilio García Montiel in the artist’s book published by Alfredo Ginocchio Gallery. As Carol Damian points out, over the course of time Echevarría “has organized the artificiality of the new technology in such a way that it may operate in the service of a synthetic reality and as a resource to free representation from the conventional approach”.
Halfway through the first decade of the 21st century, Echevarría represented the “lost identity” – the title of a work of his – in a sort of iconography of stress which progressively generated, as an effect of speed itself, works that bordered on abstraction, and whose titles, which were often bilingual, alluded in a parallel way to another multitudinous movement: that of the human masses coming from the south to insert themselves in the megalopolises of the north. He himself had traveled from Havana to Mexico City, Miami and New York, cities he explored in walks that are part of his work.
Roaming along a large city is the antithesis of the habitual walking in a hurry, and it has been in fact the work method of this artist who was still a teenager when he became a member of Arte Calle, a group which, in the mid-1980s, used performance and happenings, as well as graffiti, in the public spaces of Havana, to unify the cultural criticism of the art system of the time through a playful mode of political resistance partaking of the reaction of anonymous people. Distantly related to the “flâneur”, which was the vital model of appropriation of urban culture since the 19th century, Echevarría watches the crowds through the new digital devices and continues to abide by Baudelaire’s precept of wandering with a camera in one’s hand. Like the Situationists, for whom everyday life was the measure of all things, he walks around, digitally shooting the scenes he finds in that random drifting in the city in movement. His psycho-geography is thus mediated by the playful exercise of experimenting people through the eye that captures them in flight by means of the technological prosthetics, which results not only in a different way of perceiving and inhabiting this geography, but also of painting it – based on the images he has photographed in his aimless drifting – as a city appropriated for – and by – an art that is inseparable from everyday life.
The experience of seeing and inhabiting cities constantly painted from the perspective of that other vision, the one of the digital lens, is paradoxically opposed to the vertigo in which the individuals in transit in his works are trapped. Ofill Echevarría sees and teaches us to see that which goes unnoticed: the silhouettes of human beings inadvertently reflected on the surface of the showcases; the inverted images in the rainwater retained on a table in the open air.
But above all he sees – particularly in his more recent works – to what point each of the anonymous beings that walk the large city is, like the unrecognizable Ulysses that enters Ithaca, a being called Nobody who is, somehow, all the men, all the women, all the passers-by. The transit that erases our face is also the one that transforms us into any other person.
In effect, in his recent observations of otherness, captured through the movement of that Babel Tower of endless bursts of images that each megalopolis produces, he not only suggests another way of seeing the river of people but also a different experience of interrelation. It is not by chance that in El mundo de los vivos. The Real World, the videos slow down the transits and conjugate in a different way not only the tempo of the gaze but perception itself. And this play that slows down the burst of images is parallel to the high speeds of the camera that teaches us to see the human groups as luminous traces of colors in flight, substitutes for time. Whether he slows down his rhythm through a medium such as video, or speeds it up through another medium, transforming people into luminous pictorial abstract traces, in any case Echevarría, pushes the gaze outside of habit. His work situates us in a zone of uncertainty where the apprehension of the great river of people pulls us away from the distracted gaze and causes this gaze to inhabit those spaces of collective circulation that Michel de Certeau called “non-places”.
The experience leaves us adrift from ourselves, in a place where our identity is lost amidst the crowd, but where we are bound to this crowd. There is a poetics of connection that ends up by bringing together the human figures based on sweeping photographic views that Ofill Echevarría paints in an increasingly abstract way, and the extremely slow videos in which Bill Viola captures the movement of groups of beings that turn towards other beings, because they have been torn out of themselves and of hurry by some uncontrollable element, so that they may at last become ready to meet with others. Watches, briefcases, suits, have all gradually disappeared to create a dance of abstract colors that ends up bringing these beings close to one another in a fusion of light and movement which, on the one hand, dissolves identity traits, but on the other hand, produces a curious self-recognition effect.
The indistinct visual experience of the collective gives way to the understanding that every ‘other’ could be oneself. This happens when one beholds his pictorial series of nocturnal outside views of buildings. Looking through a window into a lit interior, we discover that there is something serial, repetitive in those different domestic scenes bordering on abstraction, where what happens is as imprecise as it is intimate and familial. And in the same way we recognize ourselves in the evanescent features of the people in the passing places, where one is at the same time everyone and no one; one and “the other” simultaneously. Perhaps the vertigo that blurs differences in the features offers, after all, its own revelation on how to inhabit the world of the living – the real world.
«Bits And Pieces» By Emilio Garcia Montiel.
Included in the volume ‘El Mundo de los vivos/The Real World’ | 124 page hand bound cloth cover hardback book | Un-Gyve Press, Boston, USA.
There is that old story about the man who abandons the city because of the noise, only to return because the silence of the countryside hampers his sleep. And O. Henry’s tale about the farmer who goes to the city for the first time, to carry out a vengeance, and, so confused and frightened he felt, that, on stumbling on his enemy, he cannot do anything but embrace him. And, Baudelaire’s well known vignette, in which a poet prefers to abandon in the mud his crown of laurels, rather than be trampled by a car.
To fault the city as a symbol of the unpredictable, chaotic and suffocating, is not, obviously, a phenomenon exclusive to contemporary times, nor does it have its origins in nineteenth century modernity; however, to have forgotten it seems to be part of the ironic transformations of the urban continuum: from our megalopolis, those first modern cities appear as idyllic as rural life has always been, in contrast to the here and now of the metropolis. Perhaps the most palpable irony is that contemporary taunt that replicates, with mega-shopping centers, office buildings or public areas, spaces so similar to each other, making it not only feasible to rationalize them as harmless, but also as a very calculated re-appropriation –albeit in other confines and with very different purposes– of the seemingly discontinued codes of the modernist movement. Spaces and behaviors pro- posed as futuristic expressions for a, supposedly, global citizen, which seem to reach the category of ideal when they correspond to the territories in which they are lodged, and where the expectations of a prosperous financial future can live and thrive, where the character of the executive that feeds the great corporations becomes the fashionable equivalent of that professional success that, only a century before, still appeared limited to the figures of the doctor and the lawyer.
From his masterful Iconos/Reflections, in which the stages and protagonists of such aspirations for the future are exceptionally visualized as no less dependent on a virtual reality than those depicted in the film Matrix, Ofill Echevarría has projected a very personal re-composition of this phenomenon within the complexity of the urban drama and its landscapes (metaphorical or real).
Their imprecise faces, lead us to Expressionism; their multitudes, portrayed as mere shadows, lead us to abstraction; their perpetually accelerated movement, makes commonplace spaces appear as impersonal as their dwellers, less in depth than in surface and sheen; monotones of black and gray and white, for which color is only an impulse of doubtful lucidity; attributes, or extensions, no less impersonal, but never dispensable: overcoats, suits, attaché cases, cell telephones, newspapers, each portraying the illusion, or need, of a style, the renegotiation of an individuality within a particular ritual of group identity; lastly, reiterations that contextualize those icons of the entrepreneurial world –that successful contemporary of our imagination– in his role as player of a smoke and mirrors game; or in that in which they seem to become: a morphing of similar data, data organized, perhaps, in the same manner in which software programs are visualized in their computers, maybe, also, at the same speed.
It is, equally, the characterization of a fragment or urban sights and functions, of territories in whose absence of individuality can be discerned that no-where place put forward as the aseptic environment of the future or at least designed for a hypothetical global citizen. A no-where place also represented by the norms of dress, the schedules, the rush, the congestion, before the doors of trains. Outside their offices, Ofill’s characters do not read as strollers, but as travelers in transit, probably, from the city to the metropolitan area, and vice versa. That way, they imbue the land- scape with something transitory that is reiterated in the magnification of built structures: stairs, hallways, sidewalks, train cars, platforms; in the constancy of that other transience that is the office building: windows that reticule the facade, exteriorizing the same rationality of the movable panels with which the interior has been divided; an entire space that could be seen as fractured, and that reproduces, in architectural scale, an impersonality similar to that which is compelled its human component.
To have discerned, this way, the alienation with which is constructed that deceptive image of success, is one of the very perceptive angles with which Ofill Echevarría dissects, not only the complexity of contemporary urban processes, but, also that un- critical complicity with which it is assumed the actual logic of restless capital, that being educated for the urgency of «what society demands» and which ponders the image of the entrepreneurial leader as the cusp of success. An image and rhetoric, that reveals those employees as the archetypes of the illusory aspirations that Douglas Coupland depicted in the nineties in his Generation X, and that, since, have only been exacerbated. It is inevitable to transmit the intimacy, the pretensions, or the weariness of these men, to Coupland’s same considerations: if the rev- elation of the virtuality of that world were to come to them, they would do little, even if they were outside it. Or, maybe they would display the violence accumulated by routine and monotony in the manner of that much darker element of Generation X, that is Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.
In the same way, the relative protagonism of reflection in Ofill’s work, seems to sublimate, on the one hand, the same notion of surface; on the other, to retake the recourse of distortion, of duplication, of alternative and fragmented views, through the «objectivity» of the window panes, of the glass sheets, of the mirrored plates of architecture in the urban environment. Reflections that, at the same time, are recomposed in a search of abstraction –as Ofill has titled some of his pictures in motion–where the anecdotic possibility of the work is amplified: from the homogeneity of the entrepreneurial icons –with their faces shaded in haste– to the heterogeneity of the passers-by that follow, stop, doubt, observe, point out, and open the ghost of their dissimilar personal histories. It is, without a doubt, a questioning of the urban landscape –evident or hidden– as the daily dilemma between acceptance and rejection, dilemma that, as the bilingualism that many of its titles suggest, seem to disseminate equally in distant regions and cultures, or become acute in the common territories of migration. There are creative dimensions that exceed the conceptual or stylistic importance, or the importance to a certain context of origin with which they are beholden with aesthetic appreciation; that is what occurs with Ofill Echevarría’s icons. The strict coherence between the selection of the nodal points of the phenomenon and its plastic expression is not here equivalent to the usual im- mediate description of the testimony or the report, but to the synthesis of a solid reflective distance. It is, before everything else, the maturity required to unveil the totality of an environment and its implications through its basic defining elements. But, also, very probably, a decanting of the weariness and anguish when confronting a city – or cities– of which the only truly apprehensible is a present no less uncertain that the future they propose. Whomever has delved in the most recent analysis or fictions about the great contemporary cities, about their possible dystrophies, or even about the ways they exhibit their adherence to a global character, will not vacillate in noticing the diverse sub- plots that make the work of Ofill Echevarría a solid questioning of that field; much less, in admitting it to the larger cultural space in which it belongs.
«Fragments Of Time» By Brenda J. Caro Cocotle.
Included in the catalog for ‘Momentum’ solo show | Alfredo Ginocchio Gallery. Mexico City, 2013.
Cities are like time: a succession of instants, paths, leakages, displacements and incessant routines; it is said that some of them do not sleep and that some others have their own pulse. This becoming is what articulates Ofill Echevarría’s recent work.
Momentum presents a work body that born from the thematic concerns and technical exploration that characterized the work of the artist -the record of the city, its immediacy and the diffuse individuals who inhabit it as well as the composition starting of photographic sequences-, but proposes a deeper inquiry. According to the Western canon, time is duration and course, but the pace of city life can only be trapped by the fragments that constitute its temporality through a diligent observation, those fleeting snapshots of everyday’s coming and going. Despite what everyone might assume, this contemplation does not occur in the form of static fixation or from an “on hold” registry on the canvas, but thorough recognition of its occurrence. Because a moment is a short period of time; and a short period of time, an amount of movement. And that’s where Echevarría places its work.
The artist is aware of the treatment of this category within the pictorial tradition and what audiovisual playback media have brought about its perception. His work is not a glorification of modernity, nor the furious chant to the energy of progress, the pure kinetic pleasure or delight in optical experiments. It is, above all, a reflection that is woven through the bittersweet recognition of a game of temporalities where everything is part of: the city itself, the passer, the reflections on the windows, the mass of individuals or groups of people lose all traits to become color blocks and figures, the loss of singularity, and recovered back to lose collectively. The painter’s eye is far from being an objective camera, it both subject and trigger of what it registers. There is a certain degree of ambiguity: are the subjects observed the moving ones or the observer’s move is what is put in evidence? And the point of attraction is not to find the answer.
The intersection of temporary games reveals a network of potential agreements, disagreements, non-matches. This is slightly seen on pictures like Identity None, Doors and Centerview, and found its master stroke in Groups and Encuentro, in which the stylistic and formal resources are used so that it creates a certain atmosphere of “unreality”, where small fictions are condensed with an unknown beginning and where the end does not matter, because what matters is the moment itself of their chance or impossibility.
Ofill Echevarría’s work is also a careful study on the possibilities that painting has in relation to the image and the elements that offers the enviroment itself; an analysis observed on his production called Pictures-In-Motion, where he “seeks to create an artistic document as realistic as an animated photography”, as the artist itself has call it. In works such as The Lobby or A View, the use of white in contrast with solid color blocks and faded brushstroke appears as an element that imprints dynamics. There is a relative break on the figurative representation, because even if it do not reach the absolute abstraction, the artist explores the observation, perception and the representation idea of what is seen. This is evident on The Path, where planes fragmentation and color breakup match one each other in pursuit of dissecting the speed with which displacement is recorded by human eye.
With a polished technique and a careful denouement, this work of Ofill Echevarría ratifies the strength of its proposal. Each of these moments, these glimpses of time, confronts us with our own perplexity that sometimes traps us waiting for a traffic light or seeing a bus crossing the bridge in the distance.
— 2013 —
«Review Of ‘Momentum’ Solo Show At Alfredo Ginocchio Gallery» By Madeline Izquierdo de Campos.
In April of 2013, Cuban artist Ofill Echevarría presented in Mexico City the exhibition entitled, Momentum.
To approach Echevarría’s art it becomes necessary to conceptualize his poetic based on a temporal section of his work that places iconographies at its core defined by their conceptual intentions, given that his discourse always reflects on mass events and, in a more general sense, on society.
Since Echevarría currently lives in New York, it would be prudent to take into account those signs of transmodern society found in his work. In this sense, his works are compelling for rendering an urban architecture that forces its inhabitants to move in anonymous groups. These are the expulsive, unfriendly, spaces defined by French anthropologist Marc Augé as non-places that mark a profile of non- identity.
It is possible that Echevarría’s gaze as an emigrant—like other artists working on similar themes, as is the case of Cuban Alexandre Arrechea—attract his interest toward themes that are rarely followed by the locals who participate in that overwhelming expansion of these temporal spaces where people do not exchange smiles or words. A non-place is a highway, a motel room, an airport, a supermarket. No matter the place, it is a place of loneliness, indifference, a temporal place to achieve goals and to learn how to coexist by maintaining an anonymous presence.
Echevarría’s goal is offering and conjuring up testimonies. One can seldom discern in his images the identity of a place. They fade in his painting as they favor the role a subject sheathed by a symbolic tyranny of costumes and accessories that render him monotonous and programmed. The artist represents anonymous groups or personalities to whom he steals a moment of their lives. They dwell in multifamily buildings cohabited by people who, with a sense of the phantasmagorical, make us summarize their lives under the term of similar identities.
In Echevarría’s palette the use of ranges of blacks, grays and whites are predominant and their use impact the thematic allusions present in each work. These are pictorial images that blur the story line and the—almost always denotative—titles that shape a narrative of now. Semantic strategies can be noticed in titles that, along with the images, provide metaphorical allusions and mark the present moment: that is to say that they do not refer to a before or an after.
Ofill constructs a strong dialectic of visual events. It is about approaching the visual text—work—as the subject and the title as predicate, through a process that, once completed, is inverted to generate meaning. One must then assess in Ofill’s artwork the discourses in the texts, as part of a creative event: Identity None (2012), Doors (2012), Progression (2012) and Center View (2012), among others. These are titles that are converging to interpret that which is represented through a subject, the anonymous location of the space-city.
From the artistic point of view, the work draws from the tradition of photography, documentary film and painting, which can be appreciated in different accents, renaissance perspectives, expressionist theater drama, surreal ghostly visions, visual liberations that bring it closer to abstraction, and chromatic restrictions marked tensions reminiscent of Malevich’s Suprematism.
A highlight of the exhibition is the accompanying book-catalog published by Alfredo Ginocchio Gallery, home of the exhibition presented by Ofill Echevarría. It includes relevant art criticism studies by experts Carol Damian, Emilio García- Montiel and Alejandro Robles. Also included in the edition are a significant number of photographs of Echevarría’s work that allow for a richer understanding of his work.
It should be noted that this strategy of bringing together the exhibition and the book-catalog is a way to value the artist, as any narrative about the artwork articulates his membership in Cuban or international art scene. The different accents by the experts contribute to providing an aesthetic, artistic and cultural- historic balance that may serve to generate further reflection from other scholars and the general public, in order to approach the work with new discourses that corroborate Echevarría’s maturity of a visual artist and the cultural derivations of his work, as a socially constituted value.
— 2012 —
«The Art If Ofill Echevarria» By Thomas Morin.
‘Urban Extensions’ solo show | The University of Rhode Island. URI Feinstein Providence Campus | RI. USA.
Once in a while, the art world presents us with astonishing examples of visual freshness combined with a profound understanding of how our psyche and relevant experiences on a daily basis relate to the world around us.
The work of the Cuban born artist Ofill Echevarria, during the last Twenty some odd years, exemplifies a fundamental preoccupation with the underlying world of either conscious or subconscious reflective, or existential, images that determine the way in which each and every one of us views the world in which we live on a daily basis.
While the reflective images of his art float between the internal responses to life that each of us have vis-à-vis the world we all see and the sensations that result from these experiences, Ofill proceeds to intensify his view of the indeterminate quality of human experience, especially within the construct of the urban environment, as experiences that are refractory in their very essence.
As the speed of light changes with regard to the environment through which it is passing, so too, in the work of Echevarria, the human condition is such that the roles of visual and emotional refraction bend the refracted visual and emotional surfaces of the images that we experience on a daily basis.
In this way, reality in the work of Echevarria is in a constant state of transformation and redefinition. In Echevarria, the human soul is restive and the eye deceptive. What is most significant in the art of Ofill Echevarria is the idea that political and social dogma of any stripe cannot counterbalance the inevitability of transformation and refraction.
— 2008 —
«Ofill Echevarria Or The Awakening Of Virtuality» By Gustavo Valdés.
First published as introduction to the digital series, ‘Cradle Of Life ‘, announced by the artist in cubaencuentro.com (08/29/2007), and unveiled at ofillarts.com (2008).
Between walking on a tight rope and escaping from a labyrinth, Ofill Echevarria prefers both, to deconstruct reality and to throw himself into the void.
From a snapshot a painting emerged. A photograph of this painting became the baseline for the digital prints hereby presented: marvelous exercise of what the digital realm affords the painter. Hence, these abstractions of a reality distorted first by the reflection of a mirror and then by the lens of a camera and finally by the caprice of the imagination of the artist.
What surprises the viewer is neither the irreverent gesture of the abstracted image nor the rigor in the fragmentation proposed by the painter, but the spontaneity and graciousness that result despite the control during the deconstruction of the image, the exploration of color, and the focus in the composition within the pictorial frame.
Departing from the premise of the original painting in which the animated world is reflected on an unanimated object, the convexity of a mirror, these abstractions range from recognizable distortions to those in which the image is broken down to its pixels, separated and put together again like a puzzle of sorts. The image is now at the hands of the painter, turned digital imaging technician.
The artist forcing the image to surrender, imposing his own will, violating the skins of the image to penetrate it, to get to its core, to its molecular essence, with the precision and the divine arrogance of a modern times surgeon. Sometimes the process is more adventurous and daring. Sometimes what at stake is the play of shadows. More times than not the painter object of submissiveness is the light itself. For Ofill Echevarria, a shadow is not second to light but a protagonist component of it. Having mastered in his paintings the relationship light-shadow, this is going to be highlighted in his digital process. Light, as the cornerstone of the image. Light, as the gradient of darkness and brightness, producing at times subtle atmospheres and at other times impossible spectral geometry.
In the writings of Borges, the Argentine great, he reminds us of times when the world of mirrors and the world of men were not, as now, uncommunicative. They were, furthermore, very diverse. They did not coincide with regards to their beings, their forms, and colors; both kingdoms, the specular and the human lived in peace and harmony. All entries and exits were through the mirrors.
After a failed invasion into the world of humans, the beings in the mirrors were trapped and condemned to remain inside and to serve as mere reflections of the humans. It is said that time will come when they are once again released. When this time comes, Ofill Echevarria will be their liberator.
«La Teologia del Arte» By Emilio Ichikawa. —Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana | Issue #50 | P. 143
Originally published only in Spanish: Also, Explore this issue illustrated with Ofill Echevarria’s artwork.
— 2007 —
«En Arte Calle Fuimos Verdaderos Rebeldes» An Interview By Enrique Del Risco.
Cubaencuentro en la red: cubaencuentro.com | 29 de agosto de 2007 | Originally published only in Spanish: Leer aquí
— 2005 —
«The City In Action And Reaction» By Carol Damian.
ArtNexus #55 | Arte en Colombia #101 | Jan – Mar 2005. Also published: ‘El Mundo de los vivos / The Real World’ | 124 page hand bound cloth cover hardback book | Un-Gyve Press, Boston, MA. USA, 2013.
Reflective, distorted surfaces create multiple layers of refraction and perspectival perversion in the paintings of Ofill Echevarría. His work appears to produce the effect of camera optics manipulating the photographic veracity of figures in motion, architectural reflections, and fragments of urban life. Actually, the effect is entirely invented by the artist with paint, and it is successful due to the very traditional means that inform every step of the process. He begins by making a careful grid to organize the surface of the composition and then draws his image on the grid. This is followed by meticulous oil painting that is a careful subterfuge for what appears to be a blur. A masterful, if covert, composer, Echevarría subtly, perhaps imperceptibly, rearranges the world of the city until he achieves a new order of perceptual reality, disclosing only that which contributes to his personal aesthetic; his artistic interpretation of urban life.
Ofill Echevarría studied painting in Havana in the 1980s, where he was a member of the artecalle, a group of mural and graffiti artists considered revolutionary by the Cuban government, despite their non-political, pop culture agenda. He graduated from the prestigious San Alejandro Academy in 1991 and then went to Mexico to pursue an art scholarship. He stayed for almost ten years, before moving to Miami. City life has always influenced his work and in Miami he continues to observe the same urban reality that he experienced in Havana and Mexico City and incorporate his impressions into painting. A quiet, introspective young man, Echevarria is dedicated to exploring the sense of emptiness, anonymity, and alienation that pervades so much of city life. He does so by capturing the city in motion, its inhabitants too impatient and hurried to pause even momentarily; when they do, it is to collapse in a state of total exhaustion.
Echevarria’s ability to inform his work contextually and intellectually is built upon a firm academic foundation and knowledge of art history, and an absolute dedication to the art of painting. His work is conceptually sound and focused, and with each new foray into his exploration of urban anxiety, he develops innovative methods to convey his ideas in paint. He has considered a number of subjects that relate, or that he has related to the city that have become fundamental to the development of his most recent works and that serve to elucidate their contextual base. In 2000, as a visiting artist at the University of Rhode Island, he presented an exhibition based on the image of the Mona Lisa that was incorporated in a series of small paintings of Mexico City. He chose her familiar face as a timeless icon of beauty that would serve as a unifying aesthetic representing the harmony he feels should be of universal significance in today’s frenetic way of life. He has moved beyond such metaphorical devices, although the city remains foremost in his oeuvre.
The hectic pace of the city is expressed in his most recognizable images – predominantly described in monochromatic browns and grays- of a businessman, or a fragment of him, in a carefully tailored suit and carrying a briefcase. The color is businessman¿s brown or gray as much as it is the color of architecture, pavement, and a city whose over-construction has deprived it of sunlight. The man rushes through the streets, the wide-stride of his motion reminiscent of Futurism’s assault on the past through the linear intricacy and patterns of repetition that symbolized the present. The figure is often fragmented and is never identifiable. His briefcase is his most prized possession; he is caught in boardrooms, bars, subways, streets, and doorways, the faceless man in the crowd, lost in the pursuit of the daily grind.
Echevarría is also in pursuit. To capture his businessman and everything he represents, he invents and reinvents imagery from the past and present. One of his most recent works features an exhausted businessman, collapsed on a bed, briefcase still in hand. His body is dramatically foreshortened, undoubtedly in homage to Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ (1466). In other works, the businessman is captured in shadow or in the reflection of a pavement’s heat or building’s windows. He is often fragmented and remains faceless, shimmering in non-stop movement, alone or among a lonely crowd. Occasionally, Echevarria will focus on the briefcase itself, as an icon of modernity. Everything is in constant motion, presented with a rhythmic cadence defined by brushwork and a monochromatic palette, often so distorted that the image borders on the totally abstract.
Imagine a plate glass window with a one-way mirrored surface and the cacophony of the city reflected as flickering movement to create its own strange response. Men, women, cars, lights, and the everyday hustle and bustle are elongated, extenuated, diffused and stretched until only the most ephemeral of impressions remains. The more stress, the more attenuated and distorted the images become, and the viewer feels the anxiety of the moment. By the time we absorb what we are seeing, everything has changed: light and shadow, traffic, weather, people, subways; and only a blur remains. Such imagery recalls video and film, with their fast-forward and freeze-frame devices that have long influenced his work and contribute to the optical complexity that causes visual confusion and leads to an abstract reordering of reality. This reordering also takes us back to the original organization of his canvas; the grid that informs the careful arrangement of his subjects, and the frequent inclusion of patterns (the stripes of a bedspread or building systems, for example). Not surprisingly, Echevarria is exploring other ways to impart this new reality through abstraction and in some of his newest work it is almost impossible to distinguish the subject matter as the act of painting takes over the surface effects.
He has recently begun to renew an early interest in architectural forms as the basis for his work. Windows appear not only as reflective devices, but also as design elements in buildings to create geometric ordering complicated by the imagery within. In Miami, a city with bright, sometimes blinding light, he has begun to incorporate color to add to the complexity of reflections and movement in the city, and undoubtedly, this will result in new directions. Echevarría works not from one angle of vision but rather from several of the same scene, combining them in various ways until his own composite view has the correct elements of refraction and distortion. He divides the pictorial field (a street scene, building, window reflection, bar, bedroom, etc.) with the grid, applies extreme wide-angle vistas and perspectival devices, changes the image to obscure what is recognizable, and leads the eye into the scene via paint.
Echevarria has captured the modern urban jumble as frozen fragments of motion. He gives the impression of the momentary revealed by a painting method that has been affected by the technological devices of video, film, and photography, and has become its own unique aesthetic and the image of a counterfeit environment. Echevarria has commandeered the artificiality of the new technology to act in the service of a synthetic reality and as a liberating device from the conventional approach to representation. Finally, it is through painting alone that Echevarria is able to induce the sense of emptiness, anonymity, and alienation in the crowded environment of the city.
— 2004 —
«An Introductory Text» By Alejandro Robles
Written in 2004, this introduction was first published at ofillarts.com (its previous version, 2005-2016). Also, prologue: ‘El Mundo de los vivos/The Real World’ | 124 page hand bound cloth cover hardback book | Un-Gyve Press, Boston, MA. USA.
Our existence would be so different if we weren’t living in a constant pursuit of the future; absorbed in the frantic nightmare of the undone. When contemplating the world, a medieval theologian asserted that furtive images, those which he could gaze upon only for a fleeting instant, coincided or came very close to the divine. For De Quincey, on the other hand, vertigo is nothing more than one of various incarnations of death.
In Ofill Echevarría’s work cityscapes and characters struggle between these two radical alternatives; the quasi-divine ecstasy of success and the devastating alienation of the vertigo. Hence the dual nature of his work, images that are refined yet disturbing —hence their particular intensity, built from ghostly figures charged with the beauty and subtle violence of all that is destructive.
Ofill acknowledges that these moments of ecstasy are not among those things to happen. The main characters in his work live in an alternate realm or understand time only as it relates to what is yet to come. Finding themselves cornered in the future, they believe at the vertigo as the only way for their liberation –ragged to the very edge of their own existence yet unable to reach the threshold that separates them from it.
— 2003 —
«Escape From The City, Escape From The Future» By Emilio Garcia Montiel.
Included in catalogue for City Escapes solo show | Alfredo Ginocchio gallery. Mexico City.
There is that old story about the man who flees the noise of the city and later returns because the silence of the country keeps him from falling asleep. There is also 0. Henry’s tale about a farmer who makes his first trip to the city to take revenge on his enemy, but when he find him feels so confused and afraid that all he can do is give him a hug. There is also Baudelaire’s well-known vignette about a poet who prefers to leave his aureole of supreme artist in the mud rather than be run over by a car.
To dismiss the city as a symbol of everything that is excessive, chaotic and stifling is not, obviously, an exclusive phenomenon of the contemporary world, nor does it have its origins in 19th century modernism. To have forgotten it, however, seems to form part of the ironic continuum of urban change: from our megalopolises, those first modern cities exalted as being as idyllic as rural life has always been in comparison with the here and now of the big city. The most obvious irony. perhaps, is this modern-day farce that responds with mega-shopping centers. office buildings or leisure spaces, places that are so similar that not only can they be seen as anodynes, but also as a highly calculated re-appropriation —in other settings and with very distinct purposes— of the apparently discontinued codes of modern life. Spaces and types of behavior that are promoted as the future expressions of a supposedly global citizenry, and that appear to achieve the status of ideals when they are in keeping with lands in which expectations of a sound financial future are protected, marketed and coexist, and where the character of the executive who nurtures large corporations has become the trendy equivalent of professional success that, just a half century ago, still appeared to be reserved for doctors and lawyers.
Of his most recent work, and especially since his powerful exhibit in the Praxis gallery, in February, 2003 —where the settings and protagonists of those future aspirations are exceptionally portrayed as no less dependent on a virtual realty than the ones who appear in the movie Matrix— Ofill Echevarria has fully developed a very personal “re-composition” of this phenomenon. He begins from its darkest side: the dream of the ideal executive who is blinded by weariness —a weariness that, as in Soñar Is Forbidden, barely allows the dream itself to develop fully— and for the need to renegotiate his individuality in a ritual of collective identity that splits in two like a game of mirrors. Undefined faces that verge on the expressionist, multitudes like smudges verging on the abstract: perpetually accelerated movements that portray everyday spaces that are as impersonal as the people who fill them, and whose depth goes no further than their surface or gloss. The monotonousness of black and gray and white, in which color only serves as a kind of rapture of an uncertain lucidity where the only possible question for the chosen is: Yo No Se Quien Yo Soy And I Do Not Know Why. They are attributes or extensions that are no less impersonal. but never dispensable: overcoats, suits, briefcases, cellular phones, newspapers, each shaping the illusion, or the need, of a style.
To discern the alienation in the symbols that make up this imaginary world of success is just one of the well-fixed blades with which Ofill Echevarria has begun to dissect not only the complexity of contemporary urban affairs, but also that uncritical complicity that the educated adopt for that which is supposedly required by society rather than for a comprehensive cultural development. City Escapes is as much a questioning of the urban scene —visible or occult— as of the every day anguish between acceptance and rejection. This anguish, like his bilingual titles suggest, seems to propagate equally in a variety of places and cultures, or become even more acute in lands where migration is prevalent. Ofill Echevarria’s warnings about and his encapsulation of these intersecting points makes his work more than a painstaking urban chronicle, a major cultural study. There is a solid reflective distance, but it also leans toward his own weariness and anguish about a city —or several cities— where the only thing that is truly fathomable is a present that is no less uncertain that the future that is proposed.
«La Identidad Fragmentda» By Dennys Matos.
Encuentro en la red: cubaencuentro.com | 12 de febrero de 2002 | Originally published only in Spanish: Leer aquí
— 2002 —
«Review Of ‘Iconos/Reflections’ Solo Show At Praxis International Art (Mexico)» By Emilio Garcia Montiel.
It’s Thomas Anderson in front of its computer. Like the rest of the cubicles criss- crossing the floor, his workstation has been assembled with modular panels, as impersonal as the employee’s suits. By day, Anderson works for the Metacortex conglomerate; by night, he is Neo, the hacker, who will shortly realize his life occurs in an even more regulated space, a virtual space that’s nothing but the abstract representation of a data system. A Matrix. But while that revelation comes, if it comes, and regardless of what uses it is put to, Thomas Anderson will remain just another anonymous, faceless employee in that real space so expertly dissected by Ofill Echevarría in his Iconos/Reflections, dated last February. Ten oil paintings suffice to distill the dimensions of this topic, as much as in its subjects as in the urban landscape that distinguishes them. There is an apparent redundancy on the surface of these large-format pieces: men clad in suits of like colors, carrying similar suitcases; faces and bodies of imprecise contours inhabiting a public space almost as diffuse as they are. Reiteration, textural planimetry, sobriety in the use of color, simplified scenes, focus on an imaginary hand-held camera that segments and disfigures: these are all resources for contextualizing the corporate world¿s icons, the contemporary imagination of success, in their funhouse, merely illusory aspects. Or in what they seem to become: the materialization of similar data, of data perhaps organized in the same way a computer program is visualized, and perhaps at the same speed.Each one of these works magnifies the details of such repetitiveness ¿not only by presenting them, but above all, by inscribing them in the plurality and the complexity of an urban dramaturgy. The titles bilingualism is another way of pointing out language’s duplicity, which Isaac Joseph deemed the stepping stone for thinking in the public space. From Todos los Días a las 9:00 AM / Simpleman to Camino Sugerido / Suggested Reality, the journey covers one workday. The irony of Gitanos en Ruta / Board The Ship!, Los Paseantes / Escalator’s Men, El Tiempo Apremia / Time is Golden and W & W carry the time frame out of the office and into a wider daily experience; there is also an epochal or generational time that sustains these company men as archetypes of the illusory aspirations already identified for the 1990s by Douglas Coupland in his Generation X, and which don’t seem to have lost their power.
It’s obligatory to refer these character’s intimate aspirations, as well as their fatigue, to Coupland’s reflections: even if they received the revelation of their world as merely virtual, they would do very little, even outside of such constraints. Or they perhaps would unbound the accumulated violence of a monotonous routine -in the way of Bret Easton Ellis American Psycho, a much darker companion to Generation X-, as suggested by the expressionistic tension of a work like Abstracto Stress. Similarly, the urban space’s visual elements and functions are characterized here, territories in whose absence of individuality we discover that non-place of the megalopolis promoted as an environment for the future or designed for a global citizen. We discover it in the norms for dress, the schedules, the harried pace of people in the street, the congestion at the door of a city train.
Out of their offices, Ofill’s characters are not identified as carefree strollers but, rather, as travelers in transit, probably from the city to the metropolis and back. The selection of built structures signals a landscape of the transitory: stairs, hallways, sidewalks, train coaches and platforms. The constant among this transitory elements is the office building, El Mundo de los Vivos / The Real World: windows turning the façade into a grid and exteriorizing the same rationality of the modular panels that divide the interior space; lit by night, the rooms appear as a succession of monitor screens, or fluorescent points carefully organized on a giant screen. A whole space that could be called fractal and which reproduces, at an architectonic scale, the same impersonality that’s forced upon its human component.
Some creative dimensions transcend the conceptual or aesthetic realm of significance, or their importance for a certain context of origin with which they are graced by an aesthetic appreciation; it is what happens with Ofill Echevarría icons. The strict correspondence between the selection of a phenomenon’s nodal points and its plastic expression does not reproduce the descriptive immediacy reached through a testimonial or a reportage; it signals the synthesis and the distance proper to the act of reflection. They signal, above all, the artist’s mature ability to unveil the totality of an environment and its implications through its minimal defining elements. Anyone who’s familiar with the current thinking and the current fiction about our contemporary large cities, about their possible dystopias or, even, the ways in which they exhibit their adherence to a global character, will certainly pick up the multiple subtexts that make of this show a solid critique in the field. Just as certainly, such an observer will admit Echevarría’s work into the large cultural space where it belongs.
— 2000 —
«Urban Life, Mona Lisa Inspire Cuban Artist» By Meaghan Wims.
The University of Rhode Island Daily Student Newspaper | Volume 39 Issue #39 | On ‘In Vitro’ solo show | Multicultural Center. Kingston, RI
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is one of the world’s most famous paintings. For Cuban artist Ofill Echevarria, the Mona Lisa is a symbol of universal beauty. Echevarria uses the seal of the Mona Lisa in each painting of his “In Vitro” collection, on display in the Multicultural Center until December 1st.
A thin, youthful-looking man in wireless glasses, Echevarria, 28, brightened when he spoke about his art, often smiling broadly and laughing. “Mona Lisa is a universal symbol for the arts,” Echevarria said, at the exhibit’s opening last night. “I use it as a symbol of what kind of beauty there is in every-day life.”
Echevarria’s bright oil paintings capture the fast pace of city life in Mexico City, his home for the last eight years. Centered in each is a small seal of the famous woman. “He uses a motif of the Mona Lisa to show his search for this kind of timeless sense of aesthetic value and harmony,” said Thomas Morin, associate professor of languages and Latin American studies, who organized Echevarria’s exhibit.
Echevarria’s fascination with motion in cityscapes is evident in each painting, whether it be the blue swirls of a man hitting an air bag in ‘Show Car’, or the vibrant yellows and oranges of suited men on an escalator in ‘Ascension’. “The city has always fascinated me, but I have a certain kind of reaction against city life, towards the things that cause stress, and just all the movement,” Echevarria said. “I react against it, but I still enjoy it.” “I think he’s very talented and uses different kinds of techniques to produce his art,” Morin said. “His observations are of city life – he’s always lived in the city., and he shows movement of life in an urban setting.”
Born in Cuba, Echevarria moved to Mexico at age 20 on an art scholarship from a Mexican modern art museum. He said he felt restraints from the communist government in Cuba. “The government always imposes, but art is seen as a way of expressing yourself, and not a fight against the government,” said Echevarria. “In general, is a very strong government that puts a lot of pressure on people, especially artists.” Despite this, he says he felt free to pursue art. “I’ve always been able to freely express myself that way I want,” Echevarria said.
Echevarria was part of the Arte Calle, a group of Cuban mural and graffiti artists that was considered revolutionary in the country’s closed society, Morin explained. “Sometimes they were chastised, called into question by the Cuban authority.” Morin said. “That however…didn’t put a damper on their want to express their attitudes toward life in general,” “They don’t consider themselves products of the [1959 Cuban] revolution. They don’t have any kind of great affection for the rhetorical aspects of political systems,” Morin added, -They don’t have a political platform, it’s more like expression in pop art and rock music.” Echevarria,s current work has little to do with graffiti. instead, he relates the melancholy and motion of urban settings, like in ‘Board Of Directors’, which depicts, in dark tones, a table of stern men from an imposing angle.
The Mona Lisa is always present, especially in the ‘Amorphous’ series, where her face is distorted in a sort of funhouse mirror effect in swirls of yellows and browns. The paintings invite deep thought and observation, Morin said. “He’s also a painter that gives you scenes to contemplate by the use of forms in his art and the colors he uses,- Morin said, “He uses a lot of yellows and blues, which creates a state of contemplation. You stand before and see and sense it.”
“His work represents a Persistent search for harmony,” Morin added. Melvin Wade, director of the Multicultural Center, said this is about the fifth artist Morin has brought to campus.
“This is one instant where a faculty member arranged with the students of LASA [Latin American Students Association] to get this exhibition.” Wade said. “I am just grateful to the faculty and students to get these exhibits.
“This was Echevarria’s first time in the United States. He said he may stay three months, but joked, “Maybe next week I’m going if I don’t like it!”. Morin said Echevarria’s first thought when coming to the country was that he wanted to paint New England scenes. Echevarria said he may be inspired by cities like Providence and New York.
— 1997 —
«An Introductory Text» By Osvaldo Sánchez.
‘The Intellectual Author Of The Gioconda’ solo show | Nina Menocal gallery. Mexico City | Text appear as was first published in English in ArtNexus.com.
—Ofill (Havana, 1972) debuted as a member of the action and performance Arte Calle (Street Art) Group, by 1988. While still a student at the San Alejandro Academy -still easel academy- scored a pattern of unusual radicalism in the esthetician environment -plagued with modern paradigms- of Cuban art scene of the time.
His personal artwork and incentive already consisted of performance shows where the gestures, the androgynous mask, the techno-rock, the cryptic texts, the “low” citations and the connotations of cultural dissidences formed a randomized experimental speech, without any precedents within the refined panorama of the eighties. The spasm produced by his work not only came from the emotive arsenal of an X generation which had not yet been accused upon receipt in Cuba, but of a program of transgression akin to havanan groups of rock freaks, which by then were clandestine.
Some years ago, Ofill started an investigation based on the registers of a new post-industrial sensibility. A vision created by the optic extensions of the virtual world and by a type of logical and structural articulation that stems from the system’s technologies. His way of facing pictorial tradition, even modern tradition, consisted of considering it another one iconic arsenal.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Adriana Herrera: Writer, art critic and art curator. In 2011, she associated to create, Aluna Art Foundation in Miami, Florida.
Alejandro Robles: Writer and poet.
Brenda J. Caro Cocotle: Writer, art curator, teacher and museologist.
Dr. Carol Damian: Art writer, art critic. General curator of visual arts and director of the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, Miami. She specializes in Latin American, pre-columbian and contemporary art.
Dennys Matos: Art critic and art curator.
Emilio García Montiel: Writer and art critic, poet. Specialist in modern Japanese urban culture. Doctor in History of Architecture from the University of Tokyo.
Emilio Ichikawa: Art critic and essayist.
Enrique del Risco: Writer and essayist. He is currently a lecturer in the Spanish and Portuguese department at the New York University, NYU.
Gustavo Valdés: Art promotor; art producer; art collector.
Madeline Izquierdo de Campos: Professor and art critic, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico.
Osvaldo Sánchez: Art writer, art critic, professor of art history. Director of the office for international cultural exchanges, FONCA, Mexico City (1998). Director of Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (1998-2001). Director of Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City (2001). Director of Museo de Arte Moderno de Mexico until 2011.
Dr. Thomas Morin: Professor of Hispanic Studies. University of Rhode Island. Kingston, RI. USA.
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