Harper’s is pleased to announce Gratitud, a solo exhibition of new oil paintings by Colombian artist Carlos Jacanamijoy. Presenting a series of sizable canvases in both galleries at the East Hampton location, the exhibition highlights Jacanamijoy’s unwavering quest to express his indigenous roots through the vehicle of painterly abstraction, commonly perceived as being a Western European style. The cross-pollination between the artist’s cosmopolitan sensibility and commitment to Inga tradition produces a unique aesthetic in his work: one that seeks to develop a universal visual language while also sustaining motifs inspired by his heritage. Gratitud opens on Saturday, July 23, 6–8pm, with a reception attended by the artist.
Born in a small village surrounded by lush rainforests located in the Sibundoy Valley, Putumayo, Carlos Jacanamijoy was raised in an Inga family that wholly embodied the culture’s customs. His grandfather served as the governor of his community and his father was a prominent shaman who practiced traditional medicine. Although Jacanamijoy was introduced to the Inga way of life early on, it did not diminish his worldly curiosity. By the age of thirteen, he was determined to become a painter. His lifelong pursuit of engaging with the arts and intellectual affairs was sparked by teaching himself how to paint on stretched flour sacks and voraciously reading about the history of the Renaissance. During his student years, Jacanamijoy experimented with graphic design and architecture, studied philosophy, participated in grassroots political issues, and traveled abroad to further expand his education—all while still making artworks. It is through these many endeavors that he discovered his own distinct outlook as an artist when painting evolved into his full-time passion.
At the beginning of his career, Jacanamijoy mimicked the masters from the Western canon, both stylistically and thematically. But, after being awarded a scholarship from the Instituto Colombiano de Cultura in 1994, he dramatically shifted his approach. Jacanamijoy used the funds to tour Putumayo, the country’s southwestern province that hosts his home village. His encounters with the people and natural scenery on this trip were revelatory—he realized that the memorable experiences of his homeland offered a new perspective that could be translated into his studio practice. Jacanamijoy sought out a way to visually merge facets of his native culture with a discipline that essentially arose out of an entirely different hemisphere. For the last three decades, his painterly vernacular has been occupied with blending these two influences into a unified process. The current works on view in Gratitud are emblematic of this achievement.
Jacanamijoy pivoted towards non-representational abstraction and color field painting for its universalizing appeal and radical openness. Often working on supports that far exceed human scale, his canvases are immersive experiences that beckon the audience to enter into his illusionistic tableaux. Vibrant red, amber, and viridescent hues swirl atop navy or powder blue washes that appear to glow from within. The amorphic shapes look as if they are spontaneously weaving in and out of each other, creating a surface that pulses like a living organism or bursts open like a galactic dreamscape. In some cases, Jacanamijoy allows the wet paint to drip, while in others, the brushwork is controlled and deliberate. The flatness of the picture plane is still respected, with no horizons or grounded figures. Yet a sense of spatial depth is generated by the intensity of his colors and the weight of his marks. Collected across his arrangements are white dots encircled by faint airbrushed auras to suggest immeasurable distance, while thick daubs of pigment signify closer, stationary elements. Within these chromatic turbulences, the ostensible fixity of proportion and scope are thrown into question. Jacanamijoy’s compositions can be construed as evoking the explosive energy of supernovas or the imperceptible occurrences of nuclear fission, or even as symbolically portraying immaterial emotional states. In all cases, his paintings tap into our inner and outer worlds by giving form to natural and psychic life.
Though Jacanamijoy’s paintings welcome a wealth of interpretations, his practice always returns to his indigenous heritage. His palette channels the dense and lush foliage of the Putumayo rainforest, and the movement in his compositions reflects the regalia—woven and embroidered textiles, brightly colored feathers, and flower petals worn by dancers during his village’s annual Atún Puncha celebration. Philosophically, Jacanamijoy has made illuminating connections between the shamanism he experienced in his youth and European art history. As he elaborates, “The artist is a kind of shaman and this merges with the Western belief that thinks of the artist as a spear point, which forges ahead, breaking down barriers and opening up new paths.” In the same way that the shaman makes contact with metaphysical realms and altered states of consciousness, art has the power to deepen its audience’s experience and shift their perceptions of reality. Hence, Jacanamijoy does not see his various influences as segregated worlds, but as distinct intersecting terrains, even if these trajectories are not immediately apparent. Gratitud is an exploration in bringing these connections to the surface.
Carlos Jacanamijoy (b. 1964, Santiago, Colombia) received an MA from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, in 1990, and an MCS from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, in 2014. Most recently, his work has been the subject of presentations at Korea Foundation, Seoul (2021); Museum of Cultural History, Oslo (2020); Palacio de la Proclamación, Cartagena, BO (2019); Tabari Artspace, Dubai (2019); Museo Rayo, Valle del Cauca, CO (2019); and Museo de Arte Moderno, Toluca, MX (2018). Jacanamijoy’s work has been acquired by the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC; Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogota; Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional, Bogota; and Banco de la Republica, Bogota, among other institutions. He lives and works in Bogota and Cartagena, CO.