artwork > p r e s s

September 1 - 7, 2006

Paul Weideman | The New Mexican

He came for the night, not the light

Ted Laredo’s works are predominantly color-field paintings that possess rich, subtle qualities he achieves by mixing tiny glass beads into his paint. But the work offers another level of apprehension unlikely to be experienced until darkness falls. The artist uses phosphorescent paint; in a lightless room, it glows.

Sublimation of the immaterial is a sparkly, whitish rectangle that takes on the color of adjacent surfaces due to its translucence. “I was trying to do a painting without paint, and something beautiful to look at, some- thing quiet and sublime and focused,” Laredo said in an interview at Box Gallery, where a show of the artist’s work opens with a reception Friday, Sept. 1. “It’s also like a chameleon. It changes with its environment. It’s almost a nonpainting.”

There are a couple of diptychs in the solo exhibition. On one side of staring at the sun, Laredo embedded dark, coarse sand he collected on a beach at Barra de Navidad, Mexico. On the other half, he created a compelling optical effect with orange spots on a blue field. “That part is hard to look at but hard to look away from, so the sand next to it is like a respite,” he said.

Many of his pieces have a pronounced dimensionality because of their thickness, and the artist plays with that aspect. The frame of the chartreuse painting interference green gold portal has phosphorescent paint on the back edge and creates a halo around the piece in the dark. “In the daytime the piece protrudes from the wall, and at night it looks like it’s cut out of the wall, like a portal,” he said. These effects are not coincidental. He admits, “I’m mainly going for the perceptual aspects of the experience of looking.”

Laredo grew up on the border of Texas and Mexico and earned his bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Texas at Austin in 1990. He moved to Albuquerque the following year. While he appreciates the work of Olafur Eliasson, Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, and Marcel Duchamp, the painter Florence Pierce is among his major influences.

Chronochromalux was the title of his first solo show. Held at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe in 1994, its centerpiece was a 5-by-10-foot sheet of galvanized steel from which sprouted 481 colored candles. He lit them at the opening event, and the work’s appearance for the remainder of the show was determined by how the wax melted and dripped.

There is no action element in Retroflect, his current show at Box Gallery, although some pieces quietly phosphoresce at night. “These are meant to be 24-hour pieces,” Laredo said. “They can be seen in the dark but in different ways. They’re similar to the road signs that have that reflective quality. Many of them have phosphorescent acrylic, so at night they’re actually releasing stored-up light from the day.”

Laredo’s use of galvanized steel flowered with his 1996 show, New Paintings for the Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, introduced to the church by his wife, artist Angela Berkson, a Corrales native. “It is a beautiful space and very spiritual, although it has been desanctified,” he said. “I had a visceral reaction to the space, and I did a series of pieces very loosely based on the idea of the Stations of the Cross.”

The show featured three large, monochromatic canvases and 12 smaller pieces composed of acid-etched, galvanized steel and candle wax. He liked the steel for its reflectivity, a quality that recalled the silver and gold leaf that lent a magical sheen to religious icons in the dim corners of old churches.

“I was interested in using steel for that reason and also in not using traditional paint,” he said. “On some of those I gessoed the canvas and applied the bright fuchsia-hued juice of prickly pear cactus and the pale yellow juice of lemons, which turns a yellowish brown with the heat of a blowtorch."

“I spent the entire 10 days of the show there. People who visited thought the pieces were permanently installed, which I liked. Some felt this was possibly a modern take on the Stations of the Cross, and I think people felt the pieces just looked right in that space.”

The smaller works on steel held abstractions of shapes including a vagina and a mandala, as well as direct biblical themes such as the Crucifixion in the piece ascension.

Asked how much of the surface imagery was intentional, Laredo said, “It’s all deliberately accidental. On ascension I did horizontal and vertical lines of acid, then when it got to the point where I thought it was done I’d wash it off. Then it was burnished with wax."

His other solo exhibitions were Chromaskedasic at the University of New Mexico Hospital in 2000 and De Lux: Reflective Phosphorescent Paintings at Box Gallery in 2004. Last October Laredo was one of a dozen artists invited to create a wilderness piece at THE LAND/an art site near Mountainair.

He chose to rearrange a bunch of cholla cacti, digging them up and transplanting them on a grid, in several concentric circles. His artwork for a previous installation at THE LAND was a 20-foot ring of hand-cut shards of blue glass. Those glass fragments relate to his fondness for the broken-glass shards people put on the tops of privacy walls in Mexico, which he first saw on childhood trips south of the border with his father. “I like how colorful the glass is, and it was a beautiful way to tell people not to enter somebody’s property, in my opinion,” he said. “It’s also about recycling, using what’s available. That’s how I relate to prickly pear, too. It’s beautiful and you can eat the fruits — but it has thorns.” Most of the works in Retroflect are square or rectangular flat-panel pieces, but visitors see one dome-shaped piece and a jaunty little cone made from 16 feet of 1-inch-wide canvas strips. The breadth of Laredo’s current work is shown in two pieces: a psychedelic, untitled work containing hundreds of colorful, eyelike forms (“sort of an homage to Piet Mondrian’s New York/Boogie Woogie,” he said) and anamorphic white, which is essentially a completely white painting, although the glass-bead pigment changes subtly with the color of the light source.

Anamorphic white was created on an industrial artifact: a heating panel for a dropped ceiling. Like the cast-acrylic box Laredo recycled for sublimation of the immaterial, the foundation material for anamorphic white was salvaged from a previous life.

The largest piece in Retroflect is a 6-by-10-foot panel of ultramarine blue. “I always wanted to do a large one like this,” he said. “It’s based on the shape of a billboard. You can see some brushstrokes in this one, and the appearance is like that hazy, blue sky you see in the light at dusk. It’s kind of waterlike.”

Did he strive to coax a surface appearance that would embody those ideas, or did he approach the painting more experimentally?

“I’m aiming specifically for that but at the same time welcoming other interpretations and letting the paint do what it wants to do,” Laredo said. “I’m not trying to force my will on it too much.”

Retroflect, work by Ted Laredo Opening reception 5-7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1; through September Box Gallery, 1611-A Paseo de Peralta, 989-4897

New Mexican Article: He came for the night, not the light