GISELA COLÓN (American b. 1966, Vancouver, Canada, raised 1967, San Juan, Puerto Rico) is a Puerto Rican-American contemporary artist whose sculptural practice of minimal organic aesthetics explores the subjectivities of transformation, energy, time, and space. Colón coined the term Organic Minimalism to describe the dual condition of her work: reductive, yet active and seemingly alive. While situated within the lineage of Minimalism, Colón’s practice refuses the stasis and rigidity of structure typical of work by her male predecessors, embracing the transformative and transcendent. Colón’s land art and public installations around the world center collaborative artistic practices that cross geographic, political, and national boundaries, fomenting multi-cultural dialogues and creating space for Latinx voices.
Drawing from her formative experiences in Puerto Rico merging science and art, Colón employs as source material the raw energy found in nature, ancestral biological memories, and universal cosmic consciousness. Colón’s transformative sculptures derive from her Caribbean “vivencias” or lived experiences, ranging from violence and displacement to embodied magical realism, representing the fluctuating and contradictory conditions of being a diasporic artist.
Colón’s light-activated sculptures are created utilizing innovative 21st century materials such as optical acrylics and high-technology aerospace carbon fiber. Employing a process of layering and stacking physical and metaphoric strata of materials and matter harvested from the geographical and liminal sites of her life, Colón’s sculptural practice narrates her layered personal history and often-illegible identity as a diasporic Puerto Rican artist.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Colón’s formative years were a mixture of experiential highs and lows, where the creation of art and the gathering of scientific knowledge co-existed with major life adversities. As a young child, she recalls one of her first memories was watching the moon landing, which led to her life-long fascination with astronomy. In her youth, she also visited the Observatorio de Arecibo (until recently the largest outer space telescope in the world), studying the vastness of the cosmos and dreaming of one day becoming an astronaut. Her father was a scientist (chemist) who worked in the 1970s for the government of Puerto Rico conducting air quality studies. He discovered that Sahara dust reached Puerto Rico through trade wind currents, a previously unknown phenomena, providing her at an early age with a vital understanding of planet Earth as an interconnected ecosystem. She also learned the love of looking at the Earth from above from her maternal grandfather, who was a skilled cartographer. Both her grandmothers were scientists (one a phlebotomist and the other a pharmacist), who taught her the wonders of the microscopic world. Since the 1950s, her Puerto Rican grandfather owned a hardware store in Bayamón, Ferretería Colón, where she learned the value of industry and creative experimentation through tools and construction. Collectively, these eclectic formative experiences nurtured in her a deep connection to scientific and cosmological realms.
Colón was exposed to art at a very early age through her mother, a painter who taught her to appreciate art in all its forms. From the age of 4, applying oil impasto on wood, Colón avidly painted landscapes, still-lifes, and quotidian scenes of her island surroundings, nurturing rich connections to the Earth and the natural biodiversity around her. Her Puerto Rican grandmother practiced white magic “santería” and was clairvoyant, nurturing in her connections to mystical and metaphysical worlds. At the crucial age of 12, she lost her mother. Also, Huracán David hit in 1979, and her father’s government position was terminated, leading to complete financial distress, and causing an already dysfunctional family life to devolve into dire circumstances. Her ensuing teenage years were filled with hunger, poverty, suffering and violence. Through the chaos of it all, Madre Naturaleza became her steadfast source of power and strength in times of distress. Plants, animals, trees, mountains, and everything else in nature around her provided her with survival coping mechanisms. Like the natural world’s own process of regeneration, these painful experiences taught her to turn trauma, ugliness, and despair into energy, beauty, and light. Fundamentally, this lesson of transformation has shaped her own life, and became the overarching catalyst for her art practice.
Colón attended University of Puerto Rico (BA Economics, magna cum laude, 1987), garnering the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for Puerto Rico in 1986, which encouraged her to move to California to pursue graduate studies. She attended Southwestern University School of Law (JD 1990). Though Colón studied economics and law as a method of self-preservation, she consistently returned to the core passion of her youth, painting intermittently throughout her 20s and 30s, eventually becoming a professional artist in her late 30s.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Colón’s creative output consisted of “painterly geometric abstraction” inspired by the organicism of the natural world and biodiversity of Puerto Rico. During this time period, she created a series of abstract paintings of oil on wood, utilizing palette knives to slice and carve multiple layers of paint in an additive and reductive stratification process. Starting in 2005, Colón exhibited her paintings in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, presenting a solo exhibition in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2008. Then in the 2010s, Colón became friends with DeWain Valentine and several other Light and Space artists of the 1960s. The immersion into this historic group, along with extensive auto-didactic studies of Minimalism, Donald Judd and Robert Irwin’s writings, travels to important land art icons by Michael Heizer, Judd’s Chinati, Robert Smithson’s Non-sites, generated a shift in her thinking. In 2012, Colón moved from painting into sculpture, commencing her first series of organic sculptures utilizing acrylic materials. At the beginning, Colón painted her acrylic forms, similar to Craig Kauffman, but quickly realized that she needed to move on to new undiscovered methods.
2012 was a breakthrough year. Within 6 months of starting her investigations into new materials, Colón discovered her trademark method of sculpting with light without the use of paint. Employing a process of laminating and layering 21st century optical materials, Colón’s sculptures act as reflective and refractive prisms, presenting a fluid and mutable color spectrum. Colón’s “fluid color spectrum” theory is informed by Donald Judd’s color theories relating to his multi-colored works set forth in his 1993 essay: “Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular,” in which Judd stated, “I wanted all of the colors to be present at once. I didn’t want them to combine. I wanted a multiplicity all at once.” In Colón’s case, she sought a similar yet different effect, explaining: “I did want the colors to combine. I wanted the colors to fuse with the light and form multiple hues and values that were hard to pin down and were constantly in flux. Such a quality of variability would yield a non-specific object. A condition of “non-specificity” occurs when color, form, reflectivity, and refractivity are all subject to transformation, creating a range of perceptual possibilities connecting the viewer to primal sources of life force and cosmological energy.” (Notes, Thoughts, Observations, Towards the Development, Conceptualization and Creation of Non-Specific Objects, Philp, Hunter Drohojowska (April 2015), Gisela Colón (1st ed.) Los Angeles: Ace Gallery. ISBN 978-0-692-41011-0).
In 2016, Colón created the first of her signature “monolith” floor sculptures. Continuing her explorations of new materials and methods, she discovered the use of aerospace carbon fiber and UV green urethanes to create large-scale monolithic sculptures for her incursions into land art and public sculpture projects. Colón’s Monoliths posit an advancement in the evolution of the minimal object, using a pure streamlined form, devoid of separate parts, lines, right-degree angles, and hard-edge geometries. Their gleaming surfaces embody the states of matter fluctuating between solid, liquid, and gas. Through the vocabulary of the monolith, Colón’s personal experiences of violence in Puerto Rico and entangled Latinx identity manifests as form. Colón took the harmful bullets of her youth and transformed them both physically and metaphorically into vessels that radiate energy, gravity, and time. Colón states: "Bullets are inside me....Mountains are inside me..." Through the artist's observations and experiences in El Yunque, the tropical rainforest of her home of Puerto Rico, the bullet-projectile form becomes poetically transmuted into an ancient enigmatic mountainous structure. Resembling totems, amulets, pre-historic archeological structures, and ancient architectures (Stonehenge, Native Taíno ceremonial stones, Giza Pyramids), the primal, semiotic shape of Colón’s monolith sculptures engages the realm of the sacred, invoking a mystical world beyond Earth. In her hands, the violence of culture and place is transmogrified into healing forms that reconfigure enmeshed identities and carry somatic ancestral knowledge.
Colón has exhibited internationally throughout the United States, Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, and Latin America. Notable public exhibitions include The Future is Now for the Land Art Biennial, Desert X AlUla (Saudi Arabia, 2020), Forever is Now (Egypt, 2021) presenting a site-specific monument at the Pyramids of Giza, a UNESCO landmark dating back 4,500 years, Godheads - Idols in Times of Crises in the Oude Warande Forest (Netherlands 2022), and and One Thousand Galaxies of Light (Starfield), an immersive light installation at the Wadi Hanifa River, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (November 2022). Colón’s work was recently featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA’s) historic survey exhibition Light, Space, Surface: Art from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts (2021-2022), and the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN (2022). Most recently, Colón presented a solo exhibition, The Feminist Divine, at SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia (2022).
Gisela Colón’s work resides in institutional collections such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; El Museo Del Barrio, New York, NY; SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA; Perez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL; Mint Museum, North Carolina; Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA; Grand Rapids Museum of Art, Grand Rapids, MI; and Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, Sedalia, MO.
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the artist lives and works in Los Angeles, California.