For his 23rd solo show, visual artist José-Ricardo Presman wanted to question reality.

The show at Amos Eno Gallery, among the many housed on the crowded cluster at 56 Bogart, carries on the ruminative tradition that Presman himself has championed since he co-founded the gallery on Wooster Street in Soho 45 years ago. (The gallery takes its name from the late 19th century real estate developer who had once owned the original Soho building.)  It was there, in fact, where he began with a 1975 show simply called “Untitled.” More recent show titles have posed more sprawling questions, such as 2018’s “What Happens When You Die and When You’re Born” and 2001’s “Initial Human Encounters and the Two Categories of Evil.”

“The goal is to bring back integrity and dignity to earthly humanity,” Presman tells Bushwick Daily about his latest collection of visual art pieces, which center primarily on a series of abstract wax pastels that appear on what he describes as an extremely ordinary classroom blackboard. These are given simple, blunt names and depict ghostly vestiges of the natural world reduced to its elements.

The drawings through which these revisitations take place showcase a kind of serious playfulness.

The squiggly lines dance lightheartedly on the chalkboard and leave an almost ephemeral impression— initially, Presman says, they were done in ordinary crayons until his efforts to spray it over with a fixative caused the work to dissipate. “Every show that I have, I have to have different materials,” the Buenos Aires-born artist added. Another early show of his, 1977’s “Que Sera, Sera” describes his medium only as “mixed media.” In this show, according to the gallery’s press release, Presman tasked himself with revisiting “thoughtlessly repeated perspectives.”

The drawings through which these revisitations take place showcase a kind of serious playfulness that is as much connected to the shadow of Keith Haring’s commercially omnipresent animations as to the more studiously new age thinkers who Presman prefers to cite. Lately, he says, he has been focused on depictions of the reflexive universe, an idea that traces its origins to Arthur M. Young, a curious 20th century figure most well-known for inventing the helicopter and who later parlayed that into a mysterious organization called the Institute for the Study of Consciousness. In a video the gallery posted on YouTube, Presman details these ideas on a whiteboard, using a graph to illustrate.

Similarly, Presman describes his latest work as instructional: that’s why the blackboards spoke to him as a medium and their manner of illuminating the universe’s most basic elements brings to mind a church’s stained glass lessons. One of the illustrations, which depicts the world as a conduit of anxious squiggles, is meant to present an idea of the world reduced to its purely human elements. It conveys a deep, sorrowful loneliness.

A simple yet moving, triptych of brightly-colored colleges animates the show. 

Like a lot of things, the show’s opening date had been moved around a bit because of the ongoing pandemic, and in the time between the initial opening date and February Presman happened upon some of his most compelling work on display: a simple yet moving triptych of brightly-colored colleges, neatly arranged around the three wise monkeys’ allegorical maxim of hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil. In a clever turn, the final phrase is depicted by a dark, skeletal clutter of larynxs on a hot pink background.

“Through the research that I’ve done and the reading I have done, I’ve come to expect everything to conclude the opposite of the way people understand things,” Presman says.

“The Illusion that Light Travels” will be on display at the Amos Eno Gallery at 56 Bogart street until March 14th. 

Top: “See Evil”(2020) by José-Ricardo Presman

For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.

Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.