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Esteban Delgado's Abstractive Constructions Show Promise and Sophistication

Esteban Delgado's paintings are getting better as he develops his own POV.

Esteban Delgado's current show at Avis Frank Gallery, "Esteban Delgado: Abstractive Constructions," features paintings in vivid and slightly offbeat colors in combinations that could be a visual train wreck in the hands of a less chromatically skilled artist. There's a lot of hard-edged geometric abstraction out there, but these paintings manage to feel incredibly fresh thanks to Delgado's edgy and sophisticated use of color.

In his artist statement, Delgado writes that he is interested in "exploiting tensions between various colors inspired by South Texas landscapes." In Prime Time (2013), a chartreuse ground showcases a plane of pale lemony yellow. On top of the yellow is a wonky box-like form, its sides painted in tomato red and the dusty rose of 1980s country cottage decor. A bit of industrial gray seems to peek from inside.

The forms of Delgado's work are as strong as his attention-getting colors. His flat geometric planes work with his colors to create the illusion of improbable volumes and spaces. Your eye keeps trying to follow the logic of a three-dimensional space in Prime Time only to be blocked at every turn — it starts to read as a box but then it flattens into odd planes. But such are Delgado's most successful works that you keep trying. They hold you, and it's hard to pin down why. Delgado isn't just exploiting the tensions between colors; he's exploiting the tension between our perceptions and our expectations of space.

Esteban Delgado's Pleasure Push (2013) leans in from the side with an origami-like design.
Courtesy of Avis Frank Gallery
Esteban Delgado's Pleasure Push (2013) leans in from the side with an origami-like design.

Overall, the strongest works are the most recent. Interestingly, you can see a progression of the young artist's work within the paintings in this exhibition. An earlier piece like Quartz I (2011) has fractured, faceted forms that remind me of some of Houston artist Aaron Parazette's paintings, but it's much less successful. Everyone learns from other artists, but Delgado's paintings improve when he really develops his own point of view. The forms change, the colors change and the surfaces change. In Quartz I and particularly in Charge, another 2011 work, Delgado was working on canvas. The brush strokes and the nubby weave of the fabric became a textural distraction from the crisp lines and smooth surfaces the artist was aiming for. But in his latest 2013 works on panel, the taped and painted edges are extremely crisp, the color smooth, solid and flat.

Where the forms of early works covered the canvas, in his latest paintings, Delgado's forms are placed on the panel almost like portraits, tightly cropped and sticking up from the center of the painting as in Prime Time or leaning in from the side as in Pleasure Push (2013), a smoothly painted, origami-like collection of colored planes that slaps mustard, reddish orange, avocado green and fuchsia against a faded cool blue. Meanwhile the bubblegum pink trapezoid of Press Play (2013) seems to hang upside down from the top of the painting like a kid on monkey bars.

Tectonic (2013) is possibly the strongest work in the show. In it, multihued wedges of color loom into the painting from the right side of the panel. Mustard against pale frosty blue, drab mauve butted up against a nearly Day-Glo orange.

But Delgado is still figuring things out and there are also missteps in the recent work. Pyramid (2013) is much less effective than other offerings from this year. A golden yellow band over the yellow ocher tones of pyramidal shapes isn't especially successful in terms of color, but mainly it's the composition that falls flat. The rectangular band is almost placed across the middle of the picture and visually flattens the whole thing, snuffing out any exploration of the forms by the viewer. But it's good to see this painting along with the more successful work; it's a reminder of how hard it really is to make a good painting and how a couple of subtle decisions can shift a piece into "meh" territory.

In "Abstractive Constructions," you see a young artist just starting to make some really good paintings. You never know what the future holds; some artists keep getting better and better. Some peter out and others plateau with safe and salable work. Delgado has some real successes in this show and I'm rooting for more.

 
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