Oil on Canvas
Throughout the 1990s Colón painted intermittently while practicing law; between 1993 and 1999 she exhibited select works at local project spaces in Los Angeles, California. The oil on canvas abstractions of this period foreshadow the cellular and cosmic themes of her mature work, while the thick impasto of her brushwork both reflects the lessons of her earliest artistic training and anticipates the sculptural shift in her output.
Luz Primordial (Sol y Luna, de Puerto Rico a Los Angeles), 1993, Oil on canvas, 36 x 24 x 1 inches.
In Luz Primordial (Sol y Luna, de Puerto Rico a Los Angeles) (1993), the earliest extant work of this period, light is represented in a surprisingly tactile fashion; thick, distinct brushstrokes condense in a pale yellow nucleus and radiate to the composition’s edges in striations of sienna and forest green. Colón’s focus on the sun and the moon—two celestial bodies that shine with the same light—underscores her longstanding investigation of the relationship between perception and reality, while the radiant central core portends the internal nuclei of her organic wall sculptures.
Colón’s manifestations of the ephemeral forces of color and light are informed by her close study of Monet, Van Gogh, and other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists. In their highly saturated palette of verdant greens and ferrous reds, however, these early paintings also register the formative influence of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam. From an early age Colón resonated with Lam’s The Jungle (1943), recognizing in his Surrealist-Cubist masterpiece a vision of the Caribbean as a site of colonialist trauma, and indigenous resistance embodied as indomitable nature. This theme infuses a series of raw landscapes in which Colón synthesizes her experiences of particular locales in Puerto Rico and Southern California.
Tierra de Energía, Fuego, y Luz (Metrópolis de Los Angeles), 1994, Oil on canvas, 48x36x1.5 inches.
In Tierra de Energía, Fuego, y Luz (Metrópolis de Los Angeles) (1994) Colón memorializes the great brush fires that swept Southern California in 1993. Despite the title’s allusion to her adoptive city, the painting betrays no signs of human infrastructure, its forms rendered ambiguous by a hellish, atmospheric haze.
Mar Sobre Tierra (Mar Chiquita, Manatí, Puerto Rico, 1994, Oil on canvas, 48x36x1.5 inches.
Colón’s intimate encounters with both water and land in Puerto Rico are abstracted into explosions of raw color: in Mar Sobre Tierra (Mar Chiquita, Manatí, Puerto Rico) (1994), Colón reminisces on an underwater experience in the sea below Manatí’s limestone cliffs, as deep blues dissolve into acid yellow hues that approximate the algae and silt that make up the living and decaying layers of marine matter.
Tierra Adentro (Fango de Utuado), 1995, Oil on canvas, 48x36x1.5 inches.
In Tierra Adentro (Fango de Utuado), (1995) Colón approximates a thatch of bamboo and “fango” (mud) found in the Cordillera Central, a mountainous range at the heart of Puerto Rico.
Pinnacle (El Yunque), 1996, Oil on canvas, 48x36x1.5 inches.
The long vertical brushstrokes that coalesce to form the towering Pinnacle (El Yunque) (1996) mark the first appearance of the monolithic structure that Colón has since realized as a central form of her work. The painting also locates the origins of this preoccupation in her observations and experiences of El Yunque, the tropical rainforest of her native Puerto Rico.
While Colón’s desire to realize color and light as constitutive materials would ultimately compel her to move beyond the superficial properties of paint, the 1990s works encompass key themes of the artist’s oeuvre: a visceral identification with the natural world and a mode of being that transcends linear time and space, engendered by her own diasporic subjectivity. These generative works seeded the ground from which Organic Minimalism would grow.
Text by Lauren DeLand, Ph.D., 2023