Dancers (Metallic), 2015. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.
HECTOR ARCE-ESPASAS explores the relationship between desire and exploitation by employing the loaded symbols of tropical paradise in paintings, ceramics, and screenprints. Hector earned his BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA at Hunter College in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at Taymour Grahne (2016) in New York, Evelyn Yard (2015) in London, and Luce Gallery (2014) in Turin, Italy. In 2016, he was named one of 10 Exceptional Milennials to Watch by artnet.com. Hector lives and works in New York.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the myth of the Tropical Paradise and how you use it/subvert it in your work?
Hector Arce-Espasas: Throughout the history of mankind, different cultures, in their pursuit of the ideal, have invested symbolic meaning into objects and elements of their environment. In the process of exteriorizing inner quests, these objects have become sensuous representations, i.e. symbols that express intangible truths or states. A symbol corresponds to a precise time in history and it transcends history to become universal in its function as an image. Universality of the symbolic image enables the transformation and adaptation of the symbol by different cultures, but this process also carries numerous misconceptions, misappropriations and colonial fantasies.
The idea of the Tropical Paradise is the present day transmutation of the ancient historical myth of the Garden of Paradise. The concept of Paradise as a garden is found in most eastern cultures: a secure, everlasting place in which Man can transcend his frail human condition. In biblical terms the notion of Paradise became associated with the Garden of Eden. Its earthly representation became a walled garden with dominant water features and planted with date palm trees. In western societies, this idyllic garden idea was often associated with the Latin term Locus Amoenus, a pleasant place which in time became a poetic convention for a description of an idyllic setting where a romantic encounter could occur or which belies an impending threat.
The transformation of the eastern idea of the Garden of Paradise into the western version of Eden as Paradise combined with the notion of the Locus Amoenus became the seeds for the creation of the new Tropical Paradise: an exotic, idyllic place with palm trees by the sea. Unlike its theological version, this Paradise is within easy reach, ready to be appropriated, consumed exploited and spoiled. In present times, commercial media and the advertisement industry have successfully reconfigured some of the Paradise images, within different contexts, transforming their traditional meanings, adapting them and making them trans-cultural, with far more reaching and readily consumable results.
Untitled (red) Clay Paintings, 2014. Stoneware and Acrylic on Linen. 60" x 72"
OPP: Palm trees and pineapples are recurring images in your work. Are these symbols stand ins for Tropical Paradise?
HAE: All the compositional elements from this garden are transfigured and transubstantiated to recreate the new Paradise. The river becomes the sea. The coconut palm tree, brought from the Pacific Islands by the Europeans to the coasts of West Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, replaces the date palm tree as the official iconic image for this new exotic landscape. The insertion of the pineapple as the attainable, sensuous new fruit of this Tropical Paradise emerges. My images visually demonstrate how easy the association and transition from the date palm tree to the pineapple might have occurred; thus becoming the fruit associated with the coconut palm tree.
No, these are not paintings they are Pineapple Decor, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 60" x 79"
OPP: Can you talk about the abstract screen print works? I have a sense that this is representational imagery, but blown up so large that its referent disappears?
HAE: Some of the work deals with the deconstruction and recombination of images of the pineapple, in order to demystify its meaning as a fruit representative of the Tropics. The images lure and repel while playing with the idea of the pineapple as the easily attainable commercial fruit of the Tropical Paradise. This idea is extended metaphorically in regard to having viewers question their expectations of a Tropical Paradise in itself: at what cost, to their own reality or to that of the place to stand for their fantasies.
Still of Paradise (Purple Shade of Light), 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 24" x 29"
OPP: You’ve recently shifted into more painterly representations, whereas in the past, the palm tress have been more graphic and reproduced through printmaking processes, which connects them to mass produced media. What led to this shift?
HAE: After a few years of working with printmaking, I wanted to take a shift from the mechanical to the hand-made process without loosing the elements that I was working from. The paintings that I did in the past are created by photographing palm tree leaves then zooming in to create an abstraction. Then the images were made into transparency that get exposed into a screen. The end result is painting with acrylic and the use of large format screen-printing. I use a similar process with the derriere paintings. First a model derriere wearing jeans gets directly painted, later she makes a mono print using her derriere in the canvas leaving the in prints by her moves (similar to Yves Klein). Later these are photographed and altered using the same method as the palm tree paintings.
Dancers (White), 2016. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.
OPP: It’s really jarring to see the body—well, the hips and ass, in particular—as a vessel for serving fruit. How does this work speak to exploitation of the Caribbean world?
HAE: My intention is to leave interpretation open to the viewer. Sometimes I like to ignite dislike, discomfort, disagreements with the elements I choose. A good example is the derriere sculptures. Its an image we constantly see exploited, usually direct in the Latin culture. As once the pineapple or this idea of the tropical paradise was a coveted and luring concept, in today’s culture it is the derriere. My last installation of the sculptures, named Ode to Paradise was made into a pyramid like stage/shape with a lot of tropical foliage on the top with the idea of empowering the figure, which I feel is what our culture has greatly done.
To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorarceespasas.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). Her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? is on view at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois) through April 20, 2018. In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary, Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text Where Do We Go From Here? Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us.