Through the Eyes of a Master
It’s currently one of the largest and most prestigious installations of contemporary art in El Paso. Spanning seven different media and over four decades of work, Knot: The Art of Sebastián features 53 pieces of art from the internationally acclaimed Mexican sculptor Sebastián at the El Paso Museum of Art.
“He’s one of Mexico’s most important contemporary master artists, with a tremendous influence on younger generations all around the world,” says the Consul General of Mexico in El Paso, Jacob Prado Gonzalez. The Chihuahua-born artist’s mix of math, science and culture in his large-scale steel and concrete structures has intrigued the art world for nearly half a century. “The technology of the moment is always present in my work. Art, science and technology create a better man—a better understanding as a person,” says Sebastián.
Two years in the making, the show is quite the get for the El Paso Museum of Art. “It’s very important,” says Christian J. Gerstheimer, who curated the show. “To show contemporary Mexican art in El Paso is not done that often. Our biennial event includes Mexican artists, but to focus work on one particular artist is important.” The exhibit (which runs now through June 5) spans Sebastián’s career, featuring his latest work as well as pieces from his breakthrough series from the 1970s, Transformables and Desplegables. All of these mind-bending pieces are simultaneously feats of manual labor, design, engineering and mathematical paradoxes. “My thoughts and my brain processes things in a different manner—I view things in a different world,” said the artist.
“He visualizes these mathematical concepts and forms and that’s not as easy as it sounds,” said Gerstheimer. “Steel and iron aren’t always cooperative mediums, but he’s made them very effective.” On display are several pieces from Sebastián’s most recent series Parallel Universes, which makes reference to, among other complex notions, Chaos Theory. “Torus Knot” is a six-foot-tall circular structure, enclosed by purple rungs of twisting metal. “It’s truly amazing to figure out how he did that,” said Gerstheimer, who says he’s been reading up on subjects from Cosmology to fractals in preparation for the show.
Making reference to those two very subjects, the exhibit features a piece from the artist’s early-90s series Cultivated Sculptures. The steel and iron work was submerged in the ocean for two years, becoming encrusted with fractal-patterned coral. “The fact that the corals accumulate on this sculpture and add to it and become a part of it is something he doesn’t really control but he does,” said Gerstheimer. “It’s a collaboration with nature.” The show also includes a video component, presenting Sebastián’s work process, and explaining the more intricate theories of his work.
Even the element of color—most of his pieces are monochromatic—becomes anything but simple through Sebastian’s eyes: “My sculptures are made monochromatic because there are so many different values of color within the one color used, especially when they receive light. The light brings all of the colors in the spectrum. If you pay attention, the light transforms and bathes the work in a manner that creates various colors.
Although you can find Sebastián’s work from Japan to Switzerland, his Mestizo culture and the border region remain consistent themes in his art. “The colors [in my work] have a lot to do with the colors of the mountains of my land, my hometown, mi tierra. The different colors that reflect on the mountains as the sun sets, the deep oranges, yellows and reds that then turn into purple, and blue hues,” said the acclaimed artist, who was born Enrique Carbajal González, adopting his pseudonym after Botticelli’s painting of Saint Sebastian. “The origin of my roots is my constant influence…I choose to work with such brilliant colors because I am Mexican. My perception of color is painted and embedded in my culture.”
Most recently in the region, Sebastián presented “Esfera Cuántica Tlahtolli,” a large spherical sculpture, to the University of Texas at El Paso for the school’s Centennial Celebration in 2014. Also in the area are “La Equis” (the bright red X-shaped sculpture stands nearly 200 feet tall at the south bank of the Rio Grande in Juarez) and “Aguacero” (the 45-foot-tall steel sculpture depicting a desert rainstorm found at the Paso Del Norte international bridge).
Reflecting over his 40-plus year career, which includes architectural design, painting, jewelry making, public art, costume design and multimedia productions,
Sebastián said, “Each piece has love, attention, care and time invested in them. When an artist creates a piece, they are all excellent, they are each a work of art. I believe that I have achieved that with each piece, with each work in my career. There is no point in creating a mediocre work of art.”