Esteban Vicente, colour vibrations and interactions

[ leer en español ]

In the artwork of Esteban Vicente (Spain, 1903 – USA, 2001), colour, contrast and vibration take on spacial meaning to become compositional and structural features in their own right. Vicente’s streaks of colour and the open space trapped between them lend his work an imposing, contained kind of energy. Casting aside all the extra-visual associations they may have, the harmonies created by this dialogue of different colours seems to create a gravitational field, a feeling of floating inside a composition of contrasts and light.

The artist approached each of his works not as a unique piece but as part of a process: “Every one of my paintings is part of a sequence, part of a whole. Each work is resolved in its own way but the continuation, the process, encompasses them all.” Throughout his artistic career, Vicente constructed and deconstructed line, plane and volume in a visual language of two dimensions and illusory objects. His explorations and creative process centered on studying how to structure shape, light and the possibilities offered by colour.

Abstract Expressionism, the New York School

Although he always rejected being labelled as an abstract expressionist, Vicente’s work can be viewed in the context of the New York School. This group of artists emerged in the years after World War II, their activities reaching a peak in the late 40s and early 50s, with a new style of painting that was dynamic, colorful, expressionist and abstract. Leading figures include Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. 

“To be a painter you have to know how to draw. Drawing is the means the artist has to investigate.  The painter sees by drawing,” Esteban Vicente said.

The artist emigrated from Spain to New York in 1936. He took with him his academic training and all he’d seen on his European travels, everything gained from his study of groundbreaking art from Cézanne to Matisse and, most specifically, the synthetic cubism of Picasso. He developed his own voice within abstract expressionism, characterized by meticulously constructed compositions and his explorations of colour and tonal harmony. All of this contrasts with the gestural painting and the drama of expressive improvisation associated with other figures within this movement.

Inner landscapes

“I make outlines then take them away or change them until everything is perfect,” explained Esteban Vicente, who never used sketches. He employed collage in order to later develop his work in paint. Out of need, he would use sheets ripped from colour magazines, which enabled him to experiment in modifying the visual plane through rhythm, vibration, fragmentation and the interaction between fields of colour.

Collage, using scraps of paper he painted in advance, gave Vicente the opportunity to compose his works by observing the dialogue between colours and the fluid shapes of his cut-outs, carefully enabling his intuition to lead him towards what he was seeking: a visual language that is intimate, simple, delicate, evocative, lyrical and contemplative, a language of resolved tension which brings each work to a unique equilibrium. 

For Esteban Vicente, “painting is not painting but feeling.” His strips of colour speak of his inner landscapes and, if we contemplate this artist’s work closely, we discover that we don’t only view these paintings; we feel them. 

Exhibition: at the Museo de arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente and at Galería Elvira González from the 27 November 2019 to the 2 January 2020.

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes

Music: Dr Symptosizer

Art director: Oscar Rivilla and Carolina Verd


Main picture and picture 2: jumpsuit by Bash; boots Doctor Martens courtesy from Globally.

Picture 3: dress by Bash and high heels by Star Collection courtesy from Globally.

Picture 4: dress by Psophia Official courtesy fromFinally Press and shoes by Star Collection cortesía de Globally.

Picture 5: yellow jumpsuit by Bash; boots by Doctor Martens courtesy from Globally.