Vienna, October 2008
From a very young age Gustavo Mendez-Liska perceived the world around him in a bi-polar way. He grew up in South America, in the City of Caracas, Venezuela. Today he lives and works in Europe in the city of Vienna, Austria. He knows the beauty of the Amazon forest and the laws of nature that at some times might appear cruel. This is why Mendez is aware not only of isolation but also of the communicative life in a city with all its job and leisure opportunities. He knows how to survive in nature and in a city; he loves the forest and appreciates the urban jungle.
One can observe this bi-polarity in Gustavo Mendez’s artwork as well. Today he works as an artist but has also cared a lot about music since his childhood. Music runs through his veins and those of his family; his sister is a well-known jazz singer. If melody gives music its spirit, it is due to the division into measures that creates its individual form, its dynamic and its rhythm. Both the musician and the singer can interpret the music and give it its own form, making it his or her own by shortening or prolonging the notes.
In Japanese Zen philosophy the MA has an eminent meaning: it lies between two worlds with no beginning nor end, the brake that is crucial to so many things. In music, the moment or duration of what is in-between, the pause, is what brings it to life and gives it rhythm. The succession of sound and silence or non-sounds builds up the tension in music, its ups and downs. If the rhythm of music succeeds in moving the audience willingly to give in or go with the acoustic flow, this can result in an inner movement. In common language one could say: music moves me. While in jazz music one would say: this music swings. If this interaction between sound and pauses is written down, a graphic piece with a highly aesthetic sound, a score of movements, a back and forth, a build-up and build-down of amplitude and emptiness is created.
Greatly influenced by the sound patterns and rhythm of Latin-American music, Mendez began sensitively transmitting this succession of peace and activity – so very well known to him – into his artwork. He almost always chooses for wood as an image carrier. Due to his experience in the restoration of antique furniture, Mendez has a manual and technical aptitude and know-how of this material. He uses pieces of old closets, cases or boxes that can no longer be restored. He grinds or cuts some parts, grounds them, sometimes creating collages with peaces of textiles, grinds the pieces again, applies cold encaustic wax, lets them dry, polishes them, shapes them again until parts of the wood texture re-emerge, scratches, cuts, paints, dyes, waxes, polishes, …His work is a time-consuming process.
The colors Mendez uses are colors of nature such as brown and beige, earth or mud colors, green and ochre in grass and plant shades, puce and light-grey in bark shades; in his recent works white is the predominant color, held in stone-, mist-, froth- and cloud shades. The material, the wood structure, and the colors create a melody. The measures and therefore the rhythm are transcribed into visual objects through his graphic composition. The woods of the rain forests are his favorite subject. Gustavo Mendez initially takes a very naturalistic approach at the beginning. The good relationship with his family and the rain forest is reflected in titles such as “father-woods, brother-woods and the Amazon virgin forest”.
The trees of the rain forest stand beside each other, dance with the light winds, are bent by the strong winds, but always leave enough space to the neighboring tree by appearing to sway to Latin-American music. The density of the woods creates volume, different levels that build up consecutively and create depth. The spaces between his “trees” are not “planted” continuously like in nurseries or orchards, no – the distances vary highly. Short distances, nearly unified trees, larger distances, almost resembling glades, create his images of spaces, his own stage for displaying his tangible objects in space. The trunks appear as supporting columns to him and to human kind. The horizontal plant arrangements sometimes seem like a healing cicatrization that guarantees further mobility, sometime similar to a human column, which is shown in one of his pictures titled “rip and column”.
The lines of the log are seldom drawn parallel, instead they head in different directions, change and curl around something, cut through other image layers further in the back, create different spaces, cover, rebuild, dissolve, and yet leave spaces to be shared between each other and for themselves. For Gustavo Mendez, trees are a symbol of human beings living together. His message is to be more tolerant. As trees – even in strong winds – leave enough space between them by bending into one direction and cushioning the gusts, Mendez invites us humans to give each other more space and support. By being a bit more flexible like trees, we can step up to one another and let go, thereby avoiding or resolving confrontations and disputes. In other words, he invites us to approach each other without consuming or crowding one another, for the freedom of each person ends where the freedom of another is hampered.
Mendez demonstrates his philosophy through his way of communicating with all social classes as well as through his artistic installations of huge old cases cut into trunks hanging freely in space by ropes. With different distances to one another these trunks not only divide the space but also invite the observer to find his or her way – and not merely a gap. He wants him to look behind the bulky façade for whatever reason and to discover new horizons. In his recent images, Mendez reduces his artwork to only a few lines, to the structure of the material, and to pure white. It seems he has found his own personal free space; he is approaching something different now, something bigger. He is heading from an archaic, down-to-earth foundation towards a meditative, tangible, cosmic space.