Artists are no strangers to recycled materials. Soiled beds, urinals, plastics, and paper—you may think it’s all been done, but Cuban artist Pavel Acosta has discovered a material that is surprisingly novel and poignant: paint chips. Beginning in Havana with his series “Stolen Paint,” Acosta carefully gathered the flaked fragments of paint from crumbling city walls and decrepit cars, adhering them to a surface with glue in order to create collage-like images. A comment on the impoverishment of life in Cuba under communist rule and the illicit means that communities are driven to in order to subsidize meager earnings, Acosta’s method evokes the aged, time-worn surfaces that his fragments are pulled from.
In recent works, Acosta’s paint chips have taken the form of iconic images of Western art history. For his series “Stolen from the Met,” exhibited this past weekend at PULSE NY 2014 by Zadok Gallery, he pieced together ghostly mirror images of works from the canon—Velázquez, El Greco, and van Gogh are among them—with white paint chips. These chips were sourced not from the streets of Havana, but rather created by the artist, who employed a labor-intensive process. First applying a layer of white paint to his surface, he then picked it off, before re-applying the chips in the form of great works from the Met (which, true to his series’ title, have been the targets of crime and forgery).
For his site-specific Wallscape (featured in a video to the right), Acosta intervened into the permanent collection of El Museo del Barrio, producing a skeletal image of Manuel Macarulla’s Goat Song #5: Tumult on George Washington Avenue (1988), positioned opposite its original in the museum space. This time he picked off paint from the surrounding wall, assembling the chips into an image at the center, creating an almost complete symbiosis between surface and composition. Invoking the histories and narratives deeply embedded in paint, Acosta’s works mine both subject and medium in images that are as meticulous and complex as they are absorbing.