I paint what I want to see.
The phrase is attributed to Philip Guston, but could just as well be applied to Chilean born, Los Angeles-based painter Sebastián Silva (b. 1979, Santiago de Chile). A celebrated filmmaker who debuted his latest movie, Rotting In the Sun, at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Silva makes paintings that defy easy characterization: like his films, they consistently appear to be on the cusp of revealing something elusive, surprising, raunchy and outrageous.
For his second exhibition of paintings and drawings at OMR, Silva has confected more than half a dozen oil on canvas pileups that are primarily distinguished by a spiky, bacchanalian energy—that, and a tendency toward greater abstraction than shown in previous paintings. Describing his most recent efforts as "an entropy of colors, shapes, rhythms," the artist has also prosaically likened his compositions to "a birthday party." If Arthur Rimbaud were a contemporary painter these would be his comic views of an evolving, amoral, alt-bohemian Saturnalia.
"It's not easy to talk about, yet it's the easiest thing to talk about," Silva said recently about his paintings. His answer to the questions "Why do I paint?" and "What are my influences?" was the following: "These are shapes and worlds and colors that I need to see. I need to make them come to life, I need to see how they eat together." Ultimately, Silva says about the cartoonish forms that emerge from his pastel colored blocks like guys in white socks from an orgy: "I want to see how they party."
Long under the influence and style of cartoonists and animators from Tex Avery to Matt Groening, Silva's most recent canvases also channel mid-20th century painters: from Joan Mitchell to Cy Twombly to Philip Guston. Of these, Guston is the clearest inspiration, though it is the démodé Guston of the 1950s—the painter of non-representational canvases composed of shimmering clusters of brushstrokes that occupy the center of his paintings. As one might expect, Silva's invocation is double edged. Never an artist prone to hero worship or self-seriousness, his lively—if not slashing—brushstrokes and their general jaggedness chart a uniquely vigorous painterly course. Looked at closely they are far more Ab Sex than Ab Ex.
Primitive to the point of being primordial, Silva's abstract canvases capture the grungy, propulsive marks of midcentury American painters, while giving free rein to a decidedly 21st century depiction of the Freudian id. (For those that need reminding, the id is the instinctual component of personality, the unconscious source of all bodily needs, emotions and desires, especially aggression and the sex drive.)
At bottom, Silva's canvases describe a universe very much like our own: an uncontrolled, excitable place full of rough embraces, routine jostling, grappling conflict and filthy coitus. Because of, and not despite, their ambiguities, his bristling paintings—among them, Hugs 03 (2023) and my party (2023)—expertly render that image world's guts and its outlines, its aspirations and frustrations, in ways that are, at once, shadowy and crystal clear. Despite their friendly façade and happy-hued depictions, the paintely space they occupy is subject to a single maxim—the law of desire.