Jaramillo’s work is currently touring US institutions in blockbuster exhibitions We Wanted A Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 (Brooklyn Museum, Californian African American Museum, Albright Knox Gallery, ICA Boston) and Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (Tate Modern, Crystal Bridges, Brooklyn Museum). Since 2016, Hales Gallery has been at the forefront of promoting a greater understanding of Jaramillo’s rich practice.
Over a career spanning nearly six decades, American artist Virginia Jaramillo has explored abstraction through extensive experimentation with material, process, and form. At the core of her work is what she describes as “an aesthetic investigation into the structure of our physical, spiritual and mental worlds.” Jaramillo’s approach to abstraction has been informed both by her early interest in archaeology, science fiction, and cultural mythologies and her later exposure to various artistic and creative communities in the United States and Europe. After spending her formative years in Los Angeles, Jaramillo left the Watts area in 1965 to move to Paris before settling in New York City at the end of the decade. In Soho, Jaramillo worked from a large studio on Spring Street, where her work grew in scale and experimentality as she made lasting ties with art world figures such as Melvin Edwards, Dan Christenson, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Bowling. Influenced by both East and West Coast modes of painting, Jaramillo has forged a distinct formal voice driven by her ongoing desire to render perceptions of space and time in visual terms. In 1979, Jaramillo stepped away from the traditional canvas to explore other media; the present exhibition premieres her momentous return to painting.
In Foundations, Jaramillo breaks away from the smooth and pristine surfaces of her 1970s Japanese lacquerware-inspired curvilinear paintings by utilizing diverse brushstroke techniques to build rich, varied textural surfaces which distinguish fractured and fragmented forms. In the 1980s body of work by the same title, Jaramillo drew from her ongoing investigations into ancient civilizations—namely, their architecture and belief systems—to produce large handmade paper works from linen fibers and hand ground earth pigments bearing complex geometric compositions. For this next iteration, Jaramillo focuses in on the intricacies of the structures left behind by these ancient cultures: an in-depth study into the physical and spiritual life of ruin. The works on view take their reference points from contemporary sites of ancient ruin, primarily in, but not limited to, the Middle East and Mexico.
Underlying each work in the exhibition is a keen sense of geometry; unconventional forms made from dynamic angles—all drafted by hand with mathematical precision—activate the canvas and spatially orient the viewer. The calculated compositions, in which bold diagonals disrupt sloping arcs and parallel edges, contribute to a perceived tension in the picture plane: a powerful display of both movement and stasis. Jaramillo derives her color palette of saturated earth tones from the symbolic and mythological contexts of each ancient site; the title of each work indicates the site’s exact physical coordinates on the planet. The black and white paintings on view feature lines that pierce through rich fields of black paint, recalling ancient mapping systems or architectural blueprints, and acting in some cases as shadows to their solid color counterparts. Across her pioneering body of work, Jaramillo has combined formal mastery with relentless examination of human thought. As exemplified by Foundations, Jaramillo continues to find new ways to record our perception of reality and transcend the painted canvas.