Although the artist’s first solo show in Los Angeles consists entirely of acrylic works on canvas, Teo González may not be a painter, since the real sensibility behind his art has less to do with painting, and more to do with the delicate conundrum of collecting. Part of the explanation for this is that his painting technique, although un-orthodox, is simple, repetitive, and intentionally formulaic. In fact, the artist probably spends more time ‘measuring’ his paint than he does applying it. González doesn’t compensate by trying to mystify the process. Everything in his work acknowledges the simple recipe that produces the effect, which quickly allows us to move on to more compelling issues.
Working with the canvas lying flat on a table, González carefully measures out tiny pools (usually no bigger than one-half inch in diameter) of liquid in a regular grid-like pattern. While these standing pools are still wet, the artist drops a smaller quantity of dark pigment into them. Because of the difference in density between the two solutions as well as the surface tension on the little puddle into which the pigment is dropped, a perfect outline forms around the perimeter of each spot at the same time that the pigment collects into a shattered nucleus at the center.
This is one of those phenomena (just one step above an outright trick, but so harmless that it remains amusing) in which, with virtually no human intervention, things order their own physical properties into patterns that invite all kinds of poetic analogies. The resulting shapes appear like organic cells of some kind, each enclosed within a perfect membrane; or eggs waiting to be fertilized; or larval forms slumbering in microscopic oblivion, waiting to hatch. What makes these comparisons irresistible is that the artist does so little to invoke them; they’re the result of the chemicals interacting independently among themselves.
And that’s also what makes them so cloying and precious. All of these comparisons are predicated upon a desire for nature to reveal itself right before our unsuspecting eyes, as though our vision could be so naïve that it didn’t read into such phenomena exactly what it already knows, and nothing more. These readings are, in other words, exercises in a kind of human vanity that wants our knowledge about things to be constantly spoken back to us by new sources in new voices, without anybody’s prompting.
González seems to know all that, since the only way to counteract thse self-indulgent halluncinations is to undo their special “uniqueness.” In a perverse way, the delicacy and fragility of the marks are the wualities that the artist works hardes to counteract. One way to do that is to produce a lot of them. On that score, González delivers. Each canvas contains exactly 10,000 marks. When you multiply that by all the panels in the show—those with light marks laid against dark grounds, those with miniature marks laid against lined grids, and those that use iridescent pigment (all works, 1996)—the figure easily reaches into the hundreds of thousands.
From this numerical point of view, the work speaks to the profligate side of nature, its brute excess and sheer waste. If each cell represents a seed or embryonic form, their daunting number reminds us that mother nature not only eats all of her children, she destroys most of them long before they’re even born. Historically, this is a lesson that has produced a concomitant reaction fro humans: the scientific catalogue. By naming, numbering, and classifying into species, subgenera, genera, etcetera, we try to calm nature’s unruliness and contain its excesses. Science carries this process on today through the classification of DNA.
Like DNA, each of the marks in González’s paintings is a self-determined form, and so, in some way, “natural.” The paintings themselves are, in the end, catalogues of these marks. As such, they enforce two ways of looking. Up close, we are invited to relish the unique quality of each component. From further back, we are meant to see the order that governs the totality and the forces that contribute to its evolution. These are the vectors along which any collector is impelled, whether it be the naturalist collecting flora and fauna, or the connoisseur collecting paintings and sculpture. Given that his curious marks tap into both realms, González has created a situation in which these two species of collecting find an unlikely, but revealing, common ground.