Like artists, geologists could be said to be uniquely visually literate. They, too, are trained to see things that most of us might miss—for example, a cliff face or a patch of ground, or the way mountaintops jut upwards. So it makes sense that, before he began traveling to America to paint its East and West Coast cities and towns, Juan Escauriaza earned a Ph.D. in geological sciences and had established a career as a geologist. Two decades ago now, in 1994, he made the switch from science to art, taught himself how to paint, and began producing the precise, closely observed, poetic views of places far from his home in Spain for which he is celebrated.
His passion leads him to cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, and to the rural towns of Maine, where he records not the obvious sights and monuments, but, rather, quiet, overlooked, and prosaic corners and scenes. Edward Hopper’s light- and mood-infused compositions come to mind when looking at Escauriaza’s works, like Morning in Oakland (2014). Here the canvas is filled with a closely cropped view of a building’s pale façade, punctuated rhythmically with grand windows. It reads at once as an abstract arrangement of geometric forms, illumination, and shadow, and as an image of the precious calm on a small stretch of street, before the city awakens into its frenetic pace. The artist also finds pockets of peace in the so-called city that never sleeps, as in Cloud (2012). Two dun-colored buildings meet at right angles, leading the eye skyward over the squat water towers that sit on their roofs, to a single, feathery cloud. At times, people appear in his compositions. In The Cuban (2012), which is set, it seems, in a Californian city, a man walks along an unadorned concrete wall, its gray tone complementing the blush of the sidewalk. It must be dusk, as the light is soft and the shadows cast by the man and by two small boxes jutting out from the wall are long. Light—at day’s end, in the early morning, in the height of the afternoon—unifies Escauriaza’s views of these distinct cities and towns. He manages to capture it so effectively in his luminous compositions that viewers can’t help but shade their eyes.