“Ricardo Mazal: Bhutan Abstractions” is on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, Toronto. Courtesy Odon Wagner Contemporary.
After traveling to the mysterious Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan with his family, Mexican contemporary artist Ricardo Mazal was so taken with the country’s spirituality and otherworldly beauty, that he transformed his experience into his latest body of work.
Although his extensive multidisciplinary practice has been influenced by his Mexican heritage, Mazal has found much of his inspiration through travels to holy and spiritual sites. His most recent exhibition, “Bhutan Abstractions,” on view now at Odon Wagner Contemporary in Toronto, comprises a series of brilliant abstract paintings inspired by the colorful prayer flags that are frequently installed at breathtaking pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas.
Mazal’s works, composed of wide bands of color and sinewy stripes or ribbonlike wisps and swathes of color—often deep jewel tones, which are combined with white and black—effectively convey the spiritual importance and ethereality that the flags possess. A tradition upheld by many cultures of the Himalayan region, the rectangular prayer flags are simple artifacts of devotion that, when installed at the highest and holiest peaks, become billowing, sacred beacons. These flags can be seen throughout Bhutan—the Buddhist kingdom perched along the eastern side of the Himalayas—whether they are hung over deep ravines, on mountaintops, and across rivers. The flags are inscribed with mantras and blow in the wind, purifying and sanctifying the air while spreading blessings and compassion.
Mazal’s process begins with visiting these sites and taking photographs; he works with the resulting images back at his studio to create reference points for his paintings. Mazal abstracts the originals, creating imagery that conveys the energy and motion that he experienced firsthand. More abstract than his previous works, the monumental pieces are composed of bold, richly applied colors in shorizontal stripes or grid-like compositions or gestural strands. His style and the way he applies paint summons the motion of the thin, waving flags.
Drawing upon his prior explorations into themes of faith, life, and death, through these works, Mazal relate his own personal experiences of observing acts and sites of worship, sharing them with the viewer. He once described his work as bringing “reality to abstraction and the physical into the spiritual.”
While over time actual prayer flags fall victim to the elements, Mazal has immortalized their substance and significance in his paintings. And his timing could not be better, as the peace and strength the flags are meant to disseminate is certainly what the world needs more of right now.
—Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
“Bhutan Abstractions” is on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, Toronto, Nov. 14–Dec. 12, 2015.