Carlos Estévez: Images of Thought

University at Buffalo Art Gallery Exhibition, November 2012 to February 2013


Book cover image: Self-fishing, 2006, by Carlos Estévez, 39" x 27.5", collage on paper

This was a mid-career exhibition of the work of Carlos Estévez. It included paintings, drawings, sculptures, and an installation. His art is a laboratory of sorts, an observation platform. The mind behind the work is as fascinated with new discoveries as those of Renaissance and Enlightenment scientists and explorers.

Currently residing in Miami, Estévez was born and educated in Cuba; he has also lived in France, Spain, Norway, Mexico, and England, and has visited many other countries in Europe and Latin America. His travels have enriched both the person and the artist. In particular, the year he spent in Paris (2003–04) was significant to his development, giving him an appreciation for the history of Western art going back to the Middle Ages.

The range of Estévez’s work extends from sculptures and installations to oil and acrylic paintings on canvas and paper, drawings on paper, assemblages, collages, and combinations of these. Estévez’s art is easily recognizable. He uses machines, wheels, pulleys, levers, springs, buildings, and animals in an attempt to reveal the complexity of human thoughts and emotions. His humans are often puppets with bodies that reveal the complicated mechanisms engaged in their movements and thoughts. He aims at pushing the boundaries of the imagination in order to explore the nature of the world that surrounds us and the reality within.

Complex philosophical problems and ideas prompted by the human predicament

In conjunction with the exhibition, the VIII Samuel P. Capen Symposium "Thinking with Images" will explore the roots of Estévez's work and how the images he uses affect our understanding of the philosophical issues he poses.

It will feature two distinguished speakers, Holly Block, executive director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a champion of new artists who is considered one of New York's most adventurous and creative curators, and cultural historian Charles Burroughs, Elsie B. Smith Professor of Liberal Arts at Case Western Reserve University, whose work focuses on responses to and reactions against the classical tradition in the visual arts and in architecture.

Gracia says the exhibition represents all aspects of the career of Estévez, whose art has attracted substantial attention in Europe, the United States and Latin America, where it is found in major public and private collections.

Estévez's art forms range from sculpture and installation to oil and acrylic on canvas and paper, drawings on paper, assemblage, collage and combinations of each. He works with traditional materials, but has incorporated non-traditional elements -- including bottles, dolls and gadgets he finds in rummage sales and flea markets -- into his art.

Many of his later works feature dynamic images of human and animal forms over technical, linear drawings. These figures often reference constellations and the greater space of the cosmos by using lines to connect star-like dots, while at the same time they remain grounded in human space by allusion to marionette puppets.

The pieces in "Images of Thoughts" represent his artistic practice from 1992 to 2009, and illustrate the focus of much of Estévez's work: the expression, through visual images, of complex philosophical problems and ideas prompted by the human predicament.

Gracia says, "Through them he asks about the source of knowledge, the role of reason and faith in understanding, how we communicate with each other, whether women and men have a common perspective or see the world differently, whether we are free or controlled by forces we cannot avoid and if our destiny is predetermined.

"The world of images Estévez creates for us is intended to make us understand the complexity of these questions and to lead us to answers of our own. His art is a laboratory of sorts, an observation platform," Gracia says.

"The mind behind the work is as fascinated with new discoveries as that of Renaissance and Enlightenment scientists and explorers. This quality accounts in part for the philosophical character of Estévez's creations. Every piece has a philosophical twist, poses a conceptual puzzle, presents a controversial view, reveals an existential predicament or uncovers an intuition about humans and their predicaments."

In many ways, his work is child-like in that it has a playful, ingenious character associated with our early lives, according to Gracia.

"But," says Gracia, "it is also scientific in its clever engineering feats, and it always displays a deep curiosity and insight into the world and humanity. We are asked to look at it and ponder, as children do in a puppet show, fascinated by the possibilities opening before our eyes.

"The modern and archaic, the avant-garde and traditional, the conceptual and formal, and the strong and delightful combine in Estévez's art," he says, "to draw the observer into a universe of wonder. And, although the art seems to be driven by ideas, it makes no statements. Its inherent ambiguity leads to questions rather than answers, a reason why it eminently serves as an instrument of philosophical reflection."

The exhibition will be accompanied by Gracia's book, which presents philosophical interpretations of 18 works by Estévez, corresponding full-color images and an interview with the artist.

The UB Art Gallery is funded by the UB College of Arts and Sciences, the Visual Arts Building Fund, the Seymour H. Knox Fine Arts Fund and the Fine Arts Center Endowment. This exhibition was funded in part by the Samuel P. Capen Chair in Philosophy and Comparative Literature.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities .   

The exhibition was curated by Jorge J. E. Gracia, SUNY Distinguished Professor, and featured 31 works by the Cuban-born artist.

Sponsors: Samuel P. Capen Chair in Philosophy and Comparative Literature, UB Art Gallery, UB College of Arts and Sciences, and the Humanities Institute.


Image: Horror vacui (Fear of Empty Spaces), by Carlos Estévez, 2004, 55" x 39.5", oil and pencil on canvas


Image: Oscilaciones de la fe (Waiverings of Faith), by Carlos Estévez, 2003, 37" x 64", by oil and pencil on canvas


Image: El ser indeterminado (Undetermined Being) by Carlos Estévez, 2004, 38" x 64", oil and pencil on canvas


Image: Homo absconditus (Hidden Man) by Carlos Estévez, 1994, 39" x 27.5", mixed media wall sculpture


Image: Homo absconditus (Hidden Man), by Carlos Estévez, 1994, 39" x 27.5", mixed media wall sculpture


Image: El malabarista (The Juggler) by Carlos Estévez, 1999, 39" x 27.5", watercolor and watercolor pencil on paper


Image: El secreto de la vida (Life’s Secret) by Carlos Estévez, 1998, ca. 96" x 12", wood and branches sculpture