Conceived as it turned out in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic that has plunged ourselves, body and soul, in the uncertain haze of a global lockdown, Patio de luz – Terencio González’s second solo show at Jérôme Pauchant – may as well be to abstract painting what a ‘lightwell’ is to a home: the glaring illusion of a view beyond the narrow frame of a window, or a raw linen canvas in this case. The French Argentine artist’s new series of works continues on the pictorial exploration that he has embarked upon since the early 2010s, using bright Rothko-esque poster backgrounds as his sole palette and an echo to his urban flâneries.
Indeed, González first encountered what would become both his materia prima and signature light-motif while wandering the streets of Buenos Aires. Fly-posted all over the Argentine capital, these distinctively cheap, vintage-like notices typically present bi- or tri-color gradations, overprinted with all sorts of ads and political propaganda, when not announcing upcoming shows or cumbia parties. Learning that these posters were fabricated on demand at local print shops, he set out to search for them during each of his Argentine trips so that to bring back blank stocks to his Parisian studio, where they have fed his practice ever since.
Called ‘split fountain’ or ‘rainbow roll,’ the inking technique behind these radiant backdrops may be as old as letterpress, yet its popularity noticeably grew in the late 1960s, during the hippie era, when both graphic designers and Pop artists began re-appropriating it to create gig posters and eye-catching affiches, among other seemingly lowbrow collectibles. To put it bluntly, these beautiful gradients – easily obtained by pouring two or more separate colors into the ink well, before letting the press roll – were a quick and inexpensive way to give a psychedelic touch to their messages, thus more visual impact.
Incidentally, while González’s interest for split-fountain posters arose, he was further introduced to their aesthetic qualities during an exchange at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in 2013. One of his teachers – the art writer Jan Tumlir – had co-curated earlier that year In the Good Name of the Company: an exhibition that celebrated the artistic legacy of the Colby Poster Printing Company, a Los Angeles-based, family-run letterpress shop that had just closed up after nearly seven decades of activity.Colby’s signature use of Day-Glo colors combined with that technique and bold typefaces had inspired so many musicians and artists in the area that the Hammer Museum ultimately hired the company to design the poster for its first biennial show Made in L.A., in 2012. In doing so, this unique split-fountain style forever turned iconic, becoming one with the identity of the City of Angels itself.
This is where the analogy with González’s personal trajectory stops, not only because the latter unveils a history that – not unlike printing – manifestly extends much beyond the West Coast, potentially transcending all borders, but also because color is the only message in his case.Be it Ed Ruscha’s affiche to advertize the premiere screening of his film Miracle in 1975, or Allen Ruppersberg’s transcription of Allen Ginsberg’s seminal beat poem Howl in 2003, both printed on Colby posters, the Californian letterpress shop essentially brought out literary or at least conceptual artworks into the world. Contrastingly, the ready-made and ready-for-use gradient prints that González collects in Buenos Aires are a springboard onto further pictorial ventures. They are found palettes, if you will, which he strives to transmute into actual paintings.
The French Argentine artist’s practice revolves around three distinctive, although closely intertwined stages, starting with a thick, uneven and hasty brushwork with different hues of white acrylic mural paint, as well as a mixture of chalk powder on raw-linen canvases. He then proceeds to delicately collage one or two, sometimes previously cut out split-fountain posters over these heavily textured surfaces so that the latter transpire through – and fuse with – the former’s thin, almost translucent colorful sheets. Finally, he completes his compositions with light dabs of spray paint, creating discreet, like sun-kissed echoes of his found palettes in the remaining blank parts of his paintings.
While González’s oeuvre continues to convey emotions felt around town, notably through a lexicon resolutely bound to the many interventions on its walls, it is now haunted with something else entirely. His new paintings were made for the first time using offset backgrounds, which he gathered during a residency awarded by the CNAP (the French National Center for Visual Arts) in 2017. This process, which is more rencent, tends to replace typography everywhere, precipitating print shops in Buenos Aires – as it did Colby – towards obsolescence or rebirth. Not that offset doesn’t shiver from its own imperfections, which have yet to be discovered at Pauchant, the ghostly traces that characterized the artist’s earlier works – and which old presses left on paper when cleaned in a rush, if it weren’t for posters being folded while their ink still wet – belong to the past. Onto a new era we go, for González as much as the rest of the world: one in which hopefully wandering the streets won’t be a mere souvenir.