The traditionally staid genre of landscape painting initially seems at odds with the bombastic neon color palette and explosive line work of Sebastian Vallejo’s paintings in “LÜX,” now on view at Lloyd Dobler Gallery. For Vallejo, the mountains, ocean and vegetation that comprise the natural world, with the searing brightness and dramatic weather patterns that govern it, are given a unique treatment, one that consists mainly of highly synthetic media and stylized forms of expression.
Vallejo completed post-baccalaureate work and received his Master of Fine Art in Painting & Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and presently lives and works in New York. But as a native of Puerto Rico, it’s that country’s environs that are re-imaged in this body of work.
Sebastian Vallejo. Tropical Bloom, 2010. Oil paint, acrylic paint, spray paint, fabric, paper and glitter on canvas, 24"x20".
Loud floral appliqués, gaudy glitter, jagged colored pencil lines and misty plumes of spray paint embellish the conventional oil and acrylic paint surfaces. The cleverly abstracted landscapes use the stylized symbols of the tropical flower, thunderbolt and palm tree, to stand in for a more realistically rendered versions of these things, and Vallejo’s employment of tacky, touristy symbols are a tongue-in-check nod to Caribbean tropes. But these works are not solely sarcastic; some retain a wistful hint of nostalgia and others thump with genuine rapture for the blue skies and calm seas that comprise island life, proving that a carefree spirit buoyed by an environmentalist’s love of nature, is still the driving emotive force behind these works.
Sebastian Vallejo. Dark Sea, 2009. Oil paint, plastic bag, glitter, spray paint and color pencil on canvas, 20"x16"
The stand out Dark Sea more fully metabolizes the found imagery of printed fabrics and spray painted stencils into an ordered chaos of invented forms, such as the thin noodling line of background, still visible through the overlaying wrinkled plastic bags painted black (a technique akin to Vallejo’s friend and contemporary Angel Otero who, to great critical acclaim, uses oil skins to produce a similar affect). This small grace, a line that snaking through the cacophony, serves to anchor the work balancing the composition and reinforcing its frame. In other pieces spillage, appendages and flapping swaths of fabric problematize the framing of landscape, rendering Dark Sea one of the only landscape paintings in the exhibition that, in the truest sense of the term, presents viewers with a stunning horizon line.
Despite this, works in the show all engage the materiality of paint and collage on canvas in an almost sculptural way. The tension between the two- and three-dimensional media he uses in these works continue the long list of aforementioned dichotomies, proving that the pieces in “LÜX” may not literally be forces of nature, but they are equally as powerful and unwieldy.
--Thea Liberty Nichols.