New American Paintings

After living in Los Angeles for 14 years, Bart Exposito knew the exact moment returning to life as usual in sunny California was no longer an option. In 2012, after participating in a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, his mind was made up and as he put it, “I just decided right then I wasn’t leaving.” He marks his return to L.A. with Strange Alphabet at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, which showcases his latest body of work as a continuation of his interest in design, typography and affinity for line. – Claude Smith Albuquerque/Santa Fe Contributor

Exposito’s decision to relocate wasn’t entirely spontaneous, though it wasn’t until later in life that he and his wife began to really consider what their lives in New Mexico–specifically the Santa Fe area–would look like. “We wanted to move here eventually, in fact we thought it would happen much later in life, but after doing the residency, I pretty much had my mind made up right then” he said. Eventually settling in Lamy–a small town about 20 miles north of Santa Fe–both he and his wife began to look for jobs and Exposito ultimately landed a job as Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Exposito’s studio–which doubles as his living room–was neatly organized; older drawings and works on paper hung throughout the space. An easel in the corner of the room held a new work–the first completed since his show opened in July. Standing over a desk, he thumbed through a small stack of drawings, many of which revealed visible evidence of erasures and edits. Not surprising, many of them look like his paintings, but with more memory, and full of evidence suggesting a long-term relationship. Pointing to a couple he says, “I’ll even go back into these older ones and start reworking them and trying to get something new to come out of them rather than starting a blank sheet of paper.”

A self-described drawing enthusiast, he “tweaks” these small drawings until things begin to work. Referencing several versions of a painting from Strange Alphabet, one can begin to see the progression, and it’s all about process. “Once I get a form that I’m happy with, I really try to exploit it as much as I can, really just moving through these processes once I have a form that I’ve refined over a period of time” he explained, adding, “Things click on paper, but with this latest body of work I feel like I’ve been able to get the paintings to the places that the drawings are, or I can control a painting the way I can control a drawing.”

With Strange Alphabet, Exposito is further eschewing the line between figuration and abstraction. Repurposing much of his iconic, exquisite line quality, he begins to toy with rudimentary figuration–or drop occasional hints that at least allude to figuration. Reappearing concentric circles that look suspiciously like eyeballs could just as easily be mistaken for the dots on the letter “i”, both of which convey a certain ambiguity that is decidedly satisfying. “You could say that everything is really direct and rather simple, but upon closer inspection maybe you can start to see how certain things have other functions, and in a way, become generative,” Exposito said, while adding, “I’m taking these geometric forms and shapes, lines and circles and pushing them into these representational spaces or recognizable spaces so they do become figure and letter-like.”

Exposito’s compositions display a certain visual economy that at times is so effective it’s as though he’s creating paintings in as few strokes as possible, offering just enough clues for the viewer to solve the puzzle, or at the very least, appreciate the view. When discussing older work he reveals that he “used to really over complicate things,” often adding details and elements that he now feels weren’t entirely necessary. It’s immediately apparent that his latest body of work has been significantly paired down. “I was thinking about all of that while building this body of work and I really resisted that temptation. I wanted these to be simple, nothing extraneous,” Exposito said.

When I ask him how living in New Mexico has influenced his work, he offers, “I think about that in relation to different spaces out here–the sky versus the ground and whatever exists between those two things,” adding, “It’s not really intentional, it is sometimes with color, but with everything else it’s just sort of this process of osmosis.”

It’s apparent that Exposito doesn’t regret his decision to leave L.A. He offers, “It really forced me to rethink everything, but coming out here has really helped me hit the reset button.” Aside from the slower pace and much needed space, living in the country definitely has its benefits. “We just sit out here at night–especially during the monsoon season with the clouds and the sky, I keep expecting to see a unicorn,” he says with a laugh. “It really is something amazing.”

Bart Exposito received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS; Thomas Solomon Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; and the Black Dragon Society, Los Angeles, CA. His work was featured in the 2011 “Greater LA” exhibition curated by Eleanor Cayre, Benjamin Godsill, and Joel Mesler in New York, NY; “Goldmine: Contemporary Works from the Collection of Sirje and Michael Gold,” University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach, CA; and “Keeping it Straight” at the Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA.

Claude Smith is an Albuquerque-based arts administrator, curator and writer.