Tensions Surface in Bold Abstractions by Alexis Portilla

Influenced by his experience as a docent at the American Museum of Natural History, artist Alexis Portilla has parlayed an interest in cultural anthropology and Oceanic art into a prolific body of abstract paintings. With references to early pictographs, his works are characterized by their use of simple geometric shapes, applied to vibrant fields of color. Portilla both builds and excavates his canvases with broad swaths of paint, textured imprints, and scrapes and scratches, layering lines over drifting expanses of rich color. This technique impresses upon the viewer dimensional shifts that suggest space rushing forward and backward, on multivalent surfaces that are both playful and disorienting.  

Portilla’s recent works formed “Surface Tension” at BIRNAM WOOD / GALLERIES in New York, featuring heavily palimpsestic works recalling Basquiat and Twombly—lyrical paintings that hover between pure abstraction and the evocation of unknown atmospheric spaces.

Abstract geometric forms are a recurring motif in Portilla’s work, at times suggesting three dimensional forms, while at other times resting only as flat outlines of rectangles or ovals. Pattern and texture, created through expressive brushwork and diverse mark making, also come into play, and are presented as distinct layers or folded into the overall composition. Portilla’s paintings address a liminal space between the considered and the instinctual—his repeated shapes recall both the gestural irregularity of cave paintings as well as a contemporary preoccupation with windows and modern architecture. His works range in scale, and while they primarily are linked to the materiality of oil paint, have also included more diverse media including the application of beeswax to canvas, ink drawing on Mylar, and etching.