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Miguel Trelles

Pursuing Chinese antiquity for a suma: América

Rather than merely pursuing radical innovations, I favor revolutionary archaism in painting. Personally meaningful references and amenable formats from the history of art help me to depict and to frame those intuitions about nature and humanity which I have been rendering with crayon, ink and brush since infancy. Those references are then “telescoped” into new conceptual contexts and combinations, but always within the purview of traditional painting/printmaking methods.

A Caribbean provenance has heightened my awareness of the dichotomies between the art and culture of the four Americas: Pre-Columbian, Colonial, and contemporary South and North America. Venturing forth from his Mesoamerican stomping grounds, George Kubler once wrote that innovation in the art of the West might be exhausted. Perhaps it is so. And yet Asian art, specifically the rich history of painting in dynastic China, is already proving a remarkably deep wellspring of inspiration for artists the world over.

Chino-Latino is my time sensitive aim to draw from this well, generally disavowed by Western cultural hegemony for over half a millennium. This is in order to consciously straddle “the tremendous potential energy of difference” (Kubler once more) Europe unknowingly and willfully instilled between the four Americas. Nothing short of a respectful and well-informed appropriation of Chinese dynastic painting (specifically from the Sung to the Ming Dynasty, 960 – 1644) will do as a rough draft towards a Pan-American suma, a model that will not deny Europe but which will encompass more.

Because the natural landscape of Southern China reminds me of that of the Greater Antilles, I have sought classic Chinese landscape paintings to formulate an apocryphal Caribbean landscape, “a Caribbean of the mind”. Even though the compositions and brush idiom in these paintings reference Chinese art history, the oil painting medium in itself is an acknowledgment of the European paradigm. Still, I seek to update the medium through a North American hard edge/color field sensibility expressed through saturated colors.

Recently, reinterpreting the Confucian hand scroll The Classic of Filial Piety by Li Kung Lin proved very enlightening. Chino-Latino does not confine itself to landscape and saturated hues, in Trámite: Hsiao it also encompasses spare figurative forays with a sense of humor. Here, the original ink on silk compositions from the Sung Dynasty turn into the context and the stage for Maya vase and codex figures from the Classic. Oddly enough they do not appear as such an anachronism.

If Chino-Latino privileges colors in the landscapes, it reasserts the primacy of line on the figurations. In both cases, the landscapes and the figurations, Chinese antiquity is pursued to leverage new ways for America to envision itself as whole.