Texts – Erik Bakke

Essay by Erik Bakke published on the occasion of the exhibition Mariano Ferrante: New Work at Art Projects International in New York, 2019.

Mariano Ferrante’s richly colored works, often dense with lines and non-repeating patterns, come out of a conversation with the constructivist, concrete, and neo-concrete art movements as they were manifested in Latin America.

In the conceptual origins of the mathematical systems behind his constructions and in the diversity of his projects, whether paintings, or murals, or installations in the open air, a viewer can see affinities with the works of fellow Argentinians Emilio Pettoruti and Tomás Maldonado. In sensitivities to geometry and color, one can see parallels to the more op art related work of Carlos Cruz-Diez. In interests in bringing the viewer into direct engagement with his work, the sensibilities of Lygia Clark are visible. As Ferrante says, “I try to achieve a conversation between the space, the painting, and the viewer.”

The viewer looking quickly at Pintura 93/19 (2019) might first think the work offers a symmetrical overall pattern. On second look, the viewer understands the relationships of painted line and color only suggest symmetry. In Ferrante’s works, circles, squares, diamonds, and waves serve as ideas that inform, but as each successive layer of the painting is built up, the original drawing or pattern is altered. Time is an important element in Ferrante’s process. He explains, “I set a line structure but then I will deface it so it’s not that it is perfectly geometric, instead it will move. It moves with a mathematical pattern and once the structure is laid out I will start painting in the colours, one colour at a time. Then time is the structure. Each line is a little bit different, a little bit defaced.”

Ferrante’s shifting the patterns over time provides anomalies that a viewer appreciates at an intuitive level. The patterns look natural, they look the way the world is made. We recognize the forms of the patterns of the world and we know that the details of any one part are different, even if slightly, from the details of another part. Explaining patterning through mathematics is a complex task, and as Ferrante leaves the math behind to create his intricate works through process and intuition, color by color, one imagines that for a scientist or mathematician to return to Ferrante’s finished work and describe it using formulae, she would face the same challenges as describing the behavior of liquid in motion using fluid mechanics or of mapping a piece of improvisational jazz using chaos theory.

This discussion is particularly relevant in discussing how Ferrante’s “Monocromo” work leaves behind simple geometric relationships to express a more contemporary understanding of real world non-linear influence and complex systems. Monocromo N 8/17, for example, looks an even shade of green when reproduced as a small picture or when viewed from afar. But, in fact, it is not a single-color work. The work is created from the juxtaposition of four different colors which then function much like the red, green, and blue pixels of your phone screen in creating a color that is only present in your brain. As with the “Pintura” works, the viewer can see upon close viewing that the four colors are evenly distributed but are not part of an exact repeating pattern. Ferrante uses methods that though labor intensive and exacting in their application deliberately result in deviation from and effacement of concrete patterns, and these asymmetries and disruptions better allow the viewer to appreciate the works as the result of an imaginative process realized step by step and by hand.

Other Ferrante works are not so densely constructed. A work like Structure 5/11 (2015) presents a vibrant interplay of the toothy line of pastel and slicker planes of paint. A work of some years ago, Persistencia de un rastro (2004), is a play of accumulated stones and dug sand on a beach. The contrasting textures and the lines or tracks forming geometric shapes and, through these, the way this temporary installation emphasize the movement of the artist and encourage the movement of the eye all help the viewer to more fully come to terms with the breadth and depth of Ferrante’s explorations. In his works, Mariano Ferrante offers glimpses of the machinery of creation; he shows us some of its clockwork, indicates the variety of its detail, and provides samplings of its unlimited expanse.

– Erik Bakke

Erik Bakke is a writer and artist living and working in California.