For his first solo exhibition at Roman Road, Cuban artist Victor Payares, who is soon to complete an MFA at the Royal College of Art in London, has been commissioned to create a site-specific installation that expands on his new investigation of exploring ways of simulating memories through his artistic practice. The show entitled Esol Parcheesi, which is in ode to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses, an educational programme that he was enrolled in throughout high school, presents an immersive installation that narrates elements of a memory from the artist’s childhood during the Cuban ‘Special Period’.
Payares’ latest works materialise his recollections into new arrangements and convictions. He remembers his grandparents’ house in which he spent a lot of time during his youth in Havana. His grandfather, who was a recognised architect, built it in 1958 and he received national architecture awards for the building’s harmonious mix of modernism with Art Nouveau designs. The windows, in particular, are something that Payares vividly recalls; they were imported from Paris and all originally made around the time of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in the French capital: an event that sparked a major boost for Art Nouveau styles and influenced the spread of this movement across Europe. These windows, ornate with hyperbolas and parabolas, were Payares’ lenses to the world. His latest paintings simultaneously feature curvilinear forms, which, like the windows, frame his landscapes and at once transform such memories into objects of visual discourse.
During the ‘Special Period’, a euphemism for the severe economic depression that befell in Cuba as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was not enough energy supply for the entire island, which resulted in frequent power outages lasting up to 16 hours. As a child, Payares recalls how he and his grandmother used to enjoy being able to see the stars so clearly when these outages occurred. In Esol Parcheesi, the artist conveys elements of this particular memory through a unique installation composed of three parts: a tiled roof, a 3.5 m antenna and a large-scale painting.
The tiled roof in the installation comprises two structures that have been elevated from the ground, mimicking a stage platform. The antenna, which protrudes from the roof’s surface, features a cracked eggshell and the contents of the egg, resembled by melted glass bottles, are scattered upon the rooftop. Mounted upon the opposite gallery wall is a large, vibrant painting by the artist based on the sun and moon phases. While the antenna and the ruptured egg connote ideas of heat and intensities concerning communication, a reference to the instability in his hometown at the time, Payares’ installation simultaneously can be seen as an invitation to perch on the roof and to gaze up at his painting, which channels his memory of an enjoyable childhood pastime.
Payares’ artistry is further inspired by elements of the everyday; he collects disregarded objects such as cables, clothing labels and trampled glasses found lying in the streets and repurposes them in his paintings. His canvases are consequently enlivened with multi-dimensional and diverse textures and he at once recontextualises such items from today, transposing any of their accustomed meaning or worth. His employment of such objects serves not to comment in any way about materiality or consumerism but rather he is interested in bringing together components of his observations into his landscapes that explore his sense of the world. This migratory journey of objects and memories is also an important part of Payares’ work and so is his choice of colour palettes, which are often intimately connected to his experiences.
Esol Parcheesi opens on Friday 20 January from 6 – 9pm and will be on display at Roman Road until 25 February 2017.