Excerpts from catalogue essay for Turning Inward, Alfredo Esquillo’s exhibition at Artissima 2013 in Turin, Italy
Alfredo Esquillo regards art as exploration of identity and self. In his recent suite of works, this journey takes once more an inward turn and ponders sanctums within. Esquillo renders with consummate skill images wherein release, surrender, and redemption are apparent, unfolding within ‘inwardly turning’ spaces; whether room, house or cruciform receptacle. Thus, the inner self may well refer to a feeling or notion of interiority, an approximation of spirituality.
The artist proposes this inward movement as a way of thinking or a manner of being in the world. As such, Esquillo’s art is marked by deep yearning to understand existence, indeed to make meaning of it. It is this profundity that suffuses his art, a gesture that leans toward the ‘devotional’ as art historian Patrick Flores aptly puts it; where contemplation, scrutiny and salvation figure prominently.
This preoccupation with matters of existence, identity, and faith sets his art apart. While his works partake of the realism that is so avidly received in contemporary art, they evince a deeper thread of thought, a strain that zealously threshes out ties between religious practice, the belief in a greater being, and hope framed within life in a beleaguered world. Yet Esquillo’s introspections are never divorced from our colonial past, nor ignorant of contemporary dilemmas. And this makes his art alive and breathing with singular force, imparted through tactile surface suffused with feeling, scarred by wounds or embellished with gleaming beacons of faith.
Perhaps this disposition will help us understand the melancholy underlying these works. Flagellant’s Flight, Coronation Room, Presence and Release seem to occupy an in-between place: those situated between wakefulness and languor, yielding and release, the divide between ethereal, the divine and the mundane.
The artist explains that the realist rendering of the domestic scene sets the stage for the apprehension of ‘loob’, where corporeal signs are regarded as elements of ‘parallel spiritual conditions’. Thus, redemption is integrated with the mundane, made palpable in the limits of the earthly, the preoccupations of the flesh or the worries of an earth-bound spirit.
When Alfredo Esquillo proposes a ‘turning inward’, an inner mindfulness as a ‘way of being’ for the person and the artist, he seeks to establish coherence in his search for art’s purpose. This striving is laid out across the larger loom that makes contemporary life and its numerous incongruities. Esquillo acknowledges this and strives for transcendence through his art. And this transcendence as Donald Kuspit so elegantly defines is “the experience of inseparability from the cosmos”, an end to which spirituality aspires. This search for a form of knowledge, a way of living, the relentless pursuit of art’s transformative powers inculcates deep within Esquillo’s art a manner of engaged reflection, diffusing the images birthed from his practice pulsating life.