The Art Students League of Denver Hosts Visiting Artist Ricardo Mazal

ricardo-bw1-199x300For artist Ricardo Mazal, the creation of art is a transformational experience, a way of expressing meaning while also transcending it. “My intention is not to tell stories, but to evoke feelings and visceral responses.”

Mazal, based in Santa Fe and New York City, will be visiting Denver in early December as part of the Art Students League of Denver’s Visiting Artist Series. This program, which is funded by a grant from the Olson-Vander Heyden Foundation, brings acclaimed working artists from around the world to Denver to share their knowledge and insights. Mazal will offer a free public lecture and he will also teach a two-day master workshop.

In both the lecture and the workshop, Mazal will discuss his unique artistic process, which incorporates abstract painting along with digital photography and technology, monotypes, and video. He will pay particular attention to how this process played into the creation of his most recent project, A Trilogy of Burials, a series of abstract paintings, photographs, and multimedia images that are intended as a meditation on how different cultures have addressed mortality, a subject we often have a hard time discussing in Western society.

“Technology increasingly distances us from confrontations with death,” Mazal says. “I was inspired to create A Trilogy of Burials to offer an alternative — an opportunity to confront and embrace death deeply, even boldly, as a convergence between the material and immaterial worlds.”

For the first work in the trilogy, La Reina Roja, Mazal visited La Tumba de La Reina Roja, the tomb of the red queen, discovered by archeologist in Palenque, Mexico in 1994. As he does at each location, Mazal photographed both the site and the natural surroundings, while he also interviewed local people, as well as archeologists and anthropologists. At Palenque, he was struck by the interplay of the temples and the surrounding jungle in what he saw as a reflection of the holistic beliefs of Mayan civilization.

For the second project in the series, Odenwald 1152, Mazal traveled to a forest cemetery in Germany where peoples’ remains are buried in biodegradable urns beneath an individual tree. In the “peace cemetery,” as it is called, Mazal was inspired by the vertical light and dark of trees trunks as “the natural world houses the tombs of the dead — here a tree, or temple, surrounded by forest.”

A work on progress, Kora, the final installment in the trilogy, has been inspired by Mazal’s 2009 visit to remote Mount Kailash, one of the most sacred sites in the Tibetan Himalayas. Traditionally, Tibetans would bring their dead to the mountain for a “sky burial”, in which the remains are ritually dissected and then offered as food to the surrounding birds in what is considered a final act of charity. Once a common rite of burial in the harsh, rocky Himalayas, where the ground is often frozen, the practice has become more rare under Chinese rule. Nonetheless, Mazal was granted permission by family and priests to witness one such burial. “For obvious reasons, I used my camera in limited ways on the journey, concentrating on images like the prayer flags, stone carvings, painted rocks, orange lichen, and the mountain itself.”

The photographs that Mazal takes on his journeys provide the springboard for his artistic process. Back in his studio, he begins to digitally alter the images, blurring and abstracting elements while also superimposing cropped images from his own body of work. “Through this long process of transformation, numerous ideas surface and give life to a whole new series of transformations and images.”

While the altered images become part of a digital study for a painting. Mazal doesn’t try to replicate this study when he finally picks up his brush. “I want the act of painting itself to be completely intuitive and spontaneous.” He takes photographs of the evolving painting at regular intervals, and then reloads each image into his computer, altering the digital study. The result is an “ongoing conversation between the real and the virtual,” a constantly evolving image that documents both his physical and creative journey.

Mazal’s own artistic journey has also been unique. While he says that art has always been inside of him, he didn’t start painting until he was 36 years old, after years of running a successful design firm. He taught himself technique by visiting museums and reading art books. He counts among his early influences artists such as Nicola De Maria, Emilio Vedova, and Cy Twombly, as well as minimalist composers such as Phillip Glass and Arvo Part, an Estonian composer of sacred music. He credits this music with providing him a model of how to incorporate meaning into the abstract.

“True abstraction moves beyond the specific and concrete, and allows for a flexible, endlessly evolving language that engages the eye, intellect, and emotions all at once.”

Mazal hopes to encourage aspiring artists to undertake their own artistic journeys as they make personal choices when it comes to subject matter, materials, tools, and their artist process.

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