Timothy Taylor is honoured to present a selection of works by Peruvian artist Jorge Eielson forArt Basel OVR: 20C. Spanning the years 1966–1973, this selection is composed of works from the artist's 'Quipus' series: knotted, twisted, and stretched canvases that extend into three dimensions.
Eielson is best known for his Quipus series, an exploration of material, form, and communication that he began in 1963 and continued for four decades. The works are conceptual reinterpretations of ancient quipus—a record-keeping system devised by the pre-Columbian Incas of Peru, translated as 'talking knots'—and use shape and color to convey meaning. Eielson created his contemporary versions of the ancient device in raw canvas that he stretched, twisted, knotted, and then painted in monochrome or polychrome bands, with each hue, knot, and intersection representing a symbol or word. The torsion and tension of the fabric break out of the two dimensional boundaries of the flat surface, providing space for additional meanings in Eielson's singular visual and linguistic system.
Eielson presented his first quipus at the 1964 Venice Biennale, one of four Biennales that he would participate in in his lifetime. In recent years, Eielson's contributions to art history have increasingly become recognised: in 2017 the artist was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru. A Quipu by Eielson is currently featured in the exhibition Artist'sChoice: The Shape of Shape, curated by artist Amy Sillman at the newly reopened Museum ofModern Art, New York.
The Quipus series embodies Eielson's identity as both a distinctly Peruvian artist and a formally experimental member of the international avant-garde. He rose to prominence as part of thePeruvian movement known as 'Generation 1950,' before relocating to Europe, first traveling toParis in 1948 and then to Italy in the 1950s. In Europe, Eielson came into contact with artists including Lucio Fontana, Salvatore Scarpitta, Cy Twombly, Mimmo Rotella, and Alberto Burri–encounters that provided crucial stimuli for the development of his highly personal visual language, which further evolved with his move to Rome in 1970. The knot–understood as a sign, both ancestral and linguistic, of the tension between matter and the longing for space–was the heart of his creative process.
Simultaneously, Eielson's work is regarded as a precursor to contemporary conceptual art. TheFrench critic and theorist Pierre Restany explains the novelty of his knot with respect to the contemporary international milieu of experimentation: 'Eielson's gesture is different from the appropriating one of the nouveaux réalistes or the manipulative one of arte povera...his gesture is an existential act taken to paroxysm by the physical tension and the concentration of energy.When the artist's energy is used up, it is because it has been fully transferred to the quipus.'