Roberto Juarez at Charles Cowles

Roberto Juarez at Charles Cowles
Art in America
April, 2007
pp. 141-42

Wild and free, Roberto Juarez's abstractions burst with color and an exuberant repetition of forms, like rains of confetti or myriad balloons released into the air. In some paintings the repeating elements float as gently as falling leaves or snowflakes over lightly drawn rectilinear grids whose anchor, by contrast, makes them seem that much more liberated. Other times the paintings appear as diagrams of some fantastical plan or glimpses of a teeming universe on a microscope's slide. It's this delicately balanced interplay of opposites—orderly and disorderly, calculated and spontaneous, measured and organic, still and kinetic—that contribute to a sense of calm, even as your eye is led to dart around the canvas.

In a world driven by cynicism, it's refreshing to see happy paintings. True, the news on the tube is grim, there's much to gnash our teeth over, but don't we need something to live for? Joy is a challenging emotion to carry off with artistic rigor—being tortured is so much easier—but Matisse proved it could be done. Juarez is playful without being silly—rather like Gaudi, and his present day compatriot, Gehry, whose buildings are as grounded and solid as they are light-hearted and capricious.

Juarez was best known for his freely painted floral motifs until he moved, in 2000, from lush, tropical Miami to New York where the view from his studio window was now streets and buildings—ugly and dirty but at the same time beautiful in their gridded symmetry. Juarez retained his plant-like systems but pared them down to more basic shapes and placed them over a ground of geometric sections arranged like walls of tiles.

In thirty something, 2006, the grid is ochre, over which two layers of abstract formats are placed one atop the other, so that large over-lapping olive and blue-gray scalloped organic shapes serve as a backdrop for a flurry of half-moon-like semi-spheres, some transparent and others opaque white, that float and filter across the surface like autumn leaves in a breeze. Unit Circle, also from 2006 is in a party mood: a crowd of tumbling bisected balls in celebratory red and green that dance on a pink grid overlaid with ochre. The image has the effervescence of champagne bubbles and the lightness of bobbing strings of Japanese lanterns. In other paintings triangular shapes teeter on each other, point to point, to form an irregular geometric screen over the surface of the canvas. Juarez's handling of the paint, even within his well-considered parameters, is loose and gestural, and he often mutes and changes the color with collaged applications of rice paper.

Along with the many large paintings in the exhibition was a wall of twelve smaller ones, 20" x 16," which, looking like fragments of the larger work, may have served as studies, and exhibit all of the freshness the word "study" implies. Initially the artist may have meant for them to be seen individually, but once hung together, the grouping worked as one big piece, united by the ball theme that repeats throughout in myriad colors. Then again, all of Juarez's paintings, large and small, resemble fragments in that they imply a greater field than exists within their borders, as if they are windows looking onto a visual cacophony that goes on forever.

-Carol Diehl