Roberto Diago

Magnan Metz Chelsea, New York

By Claire Breukel | January 09, 2013

The first New York exhibition for Cuban artist Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy opened this month opened in September at the Magnan Metz Chelsea gallery. Described as distinctly “Afro-Cuban” the exhibition, “Entre Líneas | Between the Lines”, appears at first glance as a standard series of abstract grid canvases center-hung throughout the walls of the large two roomed space.

Roberto Diago

However, a closer inspection is rewarding as each painting’s surface reveals a patchwork of raw canvas squares that build up its base with texture and pattern. Painting over this, Diago creates storyboards told through line, form and color.

“Entre Líneas | Between the Lines” is comprised of five distinct series that are differentiated by Diago’s choice of palette and gestural markings. The first is La fuerza de tu ser, a triptych comprised of three identical rectangle canvases overlaid with earthy oxide red and pink squares. Each canvas offers a variant of patterned brickwork that includes a vertical or horizontal linear divide that suggests a horizon line or buildings. A second series shows Diago painting across the underlying canvas squares in thick black lines, allowing the folds and shapes below to disrupt the steady flow of paint. Constructed in vertical and horizontal sections, some areas appear dark and overpowering whilst others resemble a landscape vista of mowed earth, creating tension between dark and light, masculinity and femininity, delight and desperation. In other works, potent red blotches peak through the overlying black lines creating a mirage that represents past and present, the black lines censoring a clear recollection of what can only be some kind of bloody exchange.

Diago’s use of raw canvas goes hand in hand with his use of earth-bound colors and fundamental form. Deploying only what is necessary Diago easily constructs ‘situations’ that can either evoke a moment of overt tension or a soft spirituality. This sense of strength and spirituality is reminiscent to that found in the works of fellow Cuban artist José Bedia, but for Diago there is no need to describe these feelings with symbolism, but rather with considered and uninhibited suggestion.