Before making the paintings for his recent exhibition, Enoc Perez had not picked up a brush in 17 years. Instead, his process involved applying pigment to sheets of paper using an oil stick, then placing the paper against the canvases and applying pressure to transfer the pigment. In this show of 22 medium-size and large works (all 2010), he added the brush to his tool kit while continuing to use his customary technique to treat characteristic subjects: architecture and rum bottles. Now 43, the artist was born in Puerto Rico and lives in New York.
Perez carries on his love affair with International Style structures. Two red monochrome canvases illustrate examples from the University of Puerto Rico: Museum of Anthropology, History of Art, UPR, Rio Piedras and Biblioteca José M. Lázaro, UPR, Rio Piedras (the larger at about 61⁄2 by 8 feet). Though the molten palette creates a harsh mood in both works, these buildings recall the artist’s childhood, since, as critic Hilarie M. Sheets points out in the catalogue essay, his parents taught at the university. Perez’s brushwork is most evident and appealing in the highly tactile, varied, drippy surfaces of two 5-by-3 1⁄2-foot canvases that present facades—Hotel Jaragua, São Paulo, Brazil and First National City Bank, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico—in sumptuous aquas and yellows, respectively. By comparison, the broad strokes in the images of the university museum and library remain washy and inert. Dorado Hilton Hotel, Puerto Rico goes to the other extreme, including gummy, piled-up areas of brown, purple and green that denote palm trees and challenge the eye to pull the colors apart. In passages such as these, figuration and near-abstraction take up a tense cohabitation.
The artist also represents newer architecture. Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany portrays the broad, abstract planes of Zaha Hadid’s first built project (finished 1994) in a hot, dry red. By overlaying two slightly out-of-register outlines of the building, Perez makes the structure vibrate. Hearst Tower, NY shows the bold Norman Foster project that rose in 2006 near Perez’s Midtown studio. Some of the tower’s distinctive triangular windows are colored in violets and oranges against a purple sky; hovering to the left is a ghostly echo of the building’s facade, akin to the repetition in Warhol’s Double Elvis. The exhibition’s most simply beautiful work was Teatro Popular, Niteroi, showing Oscar Niemeyer’s 2007 edifice by night. The architect’s trademark winding, curved shapes become abstractions under a vigorously brushed sky in a rich, electric shade of midnight blue.
Several medium-size canvases picture Puerto Rican rum bottles, a subject Perez likened, in an article in Modern Painters, to self-portraiture. In some, he stays with his familiar technique, while in Don Q, off-register overlays, drippy paint and a discordant palette form an image that looks intriguingly like it might have been assembled from several sources. Perhaps this aggregate character emblematizes an artist broadening his repertoire, as Perez did in this mixed but admirable show.
Photo: Enoc Perez: Teatro Popular, Niteroi, 2010, oil on canvas, 42 by 60 inches; at Acquavella.