Open Studio: Jorge Posada
by Audrey Dimola
Published in Ins&Outs Magazine, Vol. II, Issue 04
Medellín, Colombia native Jorge Posada came to the United States on the last day of 1984, originally intending to stay for a brief visit. He has now been living in the country for 25 years, and was initially based in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights. He is currently living in Hells Kitchen, making art in his NYC apartment, in Belgium, in Colombia, and of course, in his studio in Long Island City, where he has been working since 1997.
Posada’s work is so unique because he takes an extremely skilled representation of the human form and fragments it into a picture plane filled with lines, panels of color, and geometric shapes – art riding the edge between figurativism and abstraction. It comes together as an amalgamation of classical and modern combined with Posada’s own social commentary and reflections on the nature of the human presence, disappearance, and anonymity. His striking treatment of the anatomy, with its realistic shadows and musculature, calls to mind Renaissance sketches and the techniques of the Old Masters. Other times, the lines dividing up the space sometimes break off into strings of dashes that resemble the marks of a draftsman or architect. No matter which elements are involved, though, the resulting piece – whether vibrantly colored or shrouded in deeper tones – is undeniably powerful. However, it took time for Posada’s work to develop into this style, and he still calls upon his classical repertoire to create more traditional works.
I&O: When did you start making art?
JP: I studied in my country. When I was a little kid I liked to draw. When I was in high school I was part of a group of guys who liked to paint – we used to get together on Wednesdays. In the University [of Antioquia in Medellín] I studied painting and sculpture. When I moved [to the US], I was studying a lot of printmaking with the Lower East Side Printshop [doing collagraphy, etching, and dry point]. I was there for 10 years and they gave me a scholarship. Part of the work I did there as a printmaker helped me a little bit with my painting because I can incorporate some methods and some approaches I had with the printmaking into my work.
I&O: How would you characterize your work?
JP: I can say that it is a kind of Neo-Figurativism, because the figure is there but it’s not a very obvious figure, it’s sometimes only a suggestion of the figure. But I’m coming from very, very classical training, so I know everything about the human figure and I used to paint very realistically before. I used to do a kind of photorealism at the University and I won the national prize in my country [in 1976] with a very, very realistic drawing, so I changed a little bit. You can see the figure there but it’s more of a suggestion of the figure, forms moving in the space.
I&O: Is that how your work has changed over time, kind of gotten more abstract?
JP: Yes, it’s changed because I work in series. When I came here I had a series that was kind of an urban approach. It was related to the people on the streets – I was painting the people in the subway, in the streets [the series called City Ghost]. Then I worked with a series of dancers in the nightclubs that was called Pieces of Flesh, and it started changing little by little into what I’m doing now. It’s not that realistic, but sometimes I like to go back to retake some things I did before and do that with a new technique. After all, whatever you did before is part of you. And sometimes I like to do something very classical, so I do a figure in a classical way to keep the skills.
I&O: Could you tell me about the paintings in your studio right now? [top p.82, behind Jorge]
JP: These paintings belong to a series I am doing now that is called The Witness. They are figures that move – there is a kind of movement in the paintings. It’s related to the situation in my country. In my country a lot of people are disappearing and I just want to show these figures, based on the painful situation going on there. But also when I call them “witness,” it’s because I mean in Colombia, or anywhere, in situations like that, the witness disappears totally, doesn’t have an identity. It’s crossed out. It doesn’t matter what kind of witness it is. But that’s the idea behind this series.
Before that I was working on a series called Sacred Body. There was also a series called Animus Corpus [the painting on p. 81 is from this series], another called The Missing, Exodus – different series, all of them relating more or less to the disappearance of the human being, and also with the anonymous presence of the human being. When I was painting about the subway [in City Ghost], it was more realistic, but the idea was still there – working a little bit with the anonymous presence of people.
I&O: Are there particular influences for your art?
JP: Yes, I have a lot of influences. I love the work of Francis Bacon. I love the classical – from the Old Masters I like Caravaggio, Rubens, El Greco, Velasquez, Tiepolo, Gericault, Delacroix, so many people – I take some elements from them. And I also love Picasso, of course, because of his way of playing with art, with materials. So yes, the influences are there – the only thing is that at some point, and I hope so, that when you least expect it you will start having some kind of signature, and then people will see your work [and know who created it]. But of course, it’s also a product of everything that you’ve seen, because as a cultural person you are not isolated – you are exposed to images, you are exposed to the work of all of these artists that are from before or present, and you are exposed to everything that is going on at the moment.. So in that sense, you touch a lot of people, you are connected to a lot of people. It’s like they say – all are one.
I&O: What are some of the most meaningful things that have happened to you relating to your art and throughout your career thus far?
JP: Well, if you think in terms of prestige, like when you win a prize for your work, that happened in my country and that happened here. But I think the most interesting moments are when you start a painting and you feel like you are really communicating with the painting. I [also] feel really good when I can show my work to people – not thinking about money or anything else, but thinking about the possibility of [exhibiting] my work and seeing people that are really interested in it and in what I’m doing.
I&O: Is this the only medium you’re working in?
JP: I do a lot of painting. I also do printmaking and a little bit of photography, in black and white and digital. And I do the sculptures [bottom p. 82]. The sculptures are more like “found” objects, things that I found nearby the studio – I put it together and I do these ensembles. All of my sculptures are the product of things I found just by chance, and in that sense I can feel that they are trying to say something to me. […] It’s the power of the object, how the object communicates things, that’s what I see. And I also like to model with clay.
I&O: Do you have a philosophy or something that guides you when you paint?
JP: That’s a good question, philosophy! Yes, maybe, but it’s difficult for me to find.. The more clear one that I have right now is the one I said before, that the art of painting is a meditation. [Earlier in the conversation, Jorge mentioned: When you paint you disconnect yourself from everything. Painting is kind of an art of meditation – I mean for me, it has always been like that. So when I come here to my studio it’s like okay, I’m in heaven. So yes, I approach painting like that, because at some point you have to let yourself go. Sometimes some ideas come out that you don’t even plan – it’s a matter of being connected to your feelings in some way.] And also I think with painting you make visible what is invisible, and also invisible what is visible. I think that’s the center of when I work – it’s more like entering in a different world, a different dimension.
I&O: What are your most recent projects?
JP: This is the new series [the paintings currently in his studio], the series that is called The Witness. There is another series I am starting called Silent Witness, a continuation of this one. And I’m planning to show this series in Rotterdam in June and maybe my country also. And right now in New York I’m trying to find a place to show something. I also have a nice project that I’m already working on. It’s a kind of homage to two or three painters that I really like – one is Rubens, the other is Delacroix, the other is Gericault. I’m doing drawings, trying to take some pieces from these painters that I really like – I’m going to deconstruct the paintings in my own style. I’m doing a lot of sketches directly. With Rubens, for example, I went to Antwerp, the city in Belgium, and I sketched directly from the paintings. The two paintings that I like are the Crucifixion and the Deposition, so I’m working now on those two pieces, doing a lot of sketches, changing the composition. And then from there I will go to Paris to do sketches from Gericault in the Louvre. They have a big piece I like [called] “The Raft of Medusa,” and I will do the same thing – interpret the painting in different ways, [use] different compositions, turn it around.