Over a career spanning more than six decades, American artist Virginia Jaramillo has explored abstraction through extensive experimentation with material, process, and form. At the core of her work is what she describes as “an aesthetic investigation into the structure of our physical, spiritual and mental worlds.” Jaramillo’s approach to abstraction has been informed both by her early interest in archaeology, science fiction, and cultural mythologies and her later exposure to various artistic and creative communities in the United States and Europe. After spending her formative years in Los Angeles, Jaramillo left the Watts area in 1965 to move to Paris, where she built connections with prominent artists, including Joan Mitchell and Alberto Giacometti, before settling in New York City at the end of the decade. In Soho, Jaramillo worked from a large studio on Spring Street, which allowed her work to grow in scale and experimentality as she made lasting ties with art world figures such as Melvin Edwards, Dan Christenson, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Bowling. Influenced by both East and West Coast modes of painting, Jaramillo has forged a distinct formal voice driven by her ongoing desire to render perceptions of space and time in visual terms. In 1979, Jaramillo stepped away from the traditional canvas to explore other media; the present exhibition premieres her momentous return to painting.
In Foundations, Jaramillo breaks away from the smooth and pristine surfaces of her 1970s Japanese lacquerware-inspired “curvilinear” paintings by utilizing diverse brushstroke techniques to build rich, varied textural surfaces which distinguish fractured and fragmented forms. In the 1980s body of work by the same title, Jaramillo drew from her ongoing investigations into ancient civilizations—namely, their architecture and belief systems—to produce large handmade paper works from linen fibers and hand ground earth pigments bearing complex geometric compositions. For this next iteration, Jaramillo focuses in on the intricacies of the structures left behind by these ancient cultures: an in-depth study into the physical and spiritual life of ruin. The works on view take their reference points from contemporary sites of ancient ruin, primarily in, but not limited to, the Middle East and the Americas.
Underlying each work in the exhibition is a keen sense of geometry; unconventional forms made from dynamic angles¬—all drafted by hand with mathematical precision—activate the canvas and spatially orient the viewer. The calculated compositions, in which bold diagonals disrupt sloping arcs and parallel edges, contribute to a perceived tension in the picture plane: a powerful display of both movement and stasis. Jaramillo derives her color palette of saturated earth tones from the symbolic and mythological contexts of each ancient site; the title of each work indicates the site’s exact physical coordinates on the planet. The black and white paintings on view feature lines that pierce through rich fields of black paint, recalling ancient mapping systems or architectural blueprints, and acting in some cases as shadows to their solid color counterparts. Across her pioneering body of work, Jaramillo has combined formal mastery with relentless examination of human thought. As exemplified by Foundations, Jaramillo continues to find new ways to record our perception of reality and transcend the painted canvas.
Virginia Jaramillo (b. 1939, El Paso, Texas) studied at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, from 1958–61. Jaramillo lives and works in New York.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Jaramillo spent her formative years in California before moving to Europe and settling in New York City in late 1960s. Central to a career spanning nearly six decades is Jaramillo’s drive to express materially our sensory perceptions of space and time in what she describes as 'an aesthetic investigation which seeks to translate into visual terms the mental structural patterns we all superimpose on our world.' Whether creating bold abstract paintings, sculptural mixed media compositions or meticulously formed handmade paper works, Jaramillo has forged a unique voice, experimenting with material and process to pursue her ongoing explorations of human perception of reality.
Taking their inspiration from Jaramillo’s rich and varied experiences and influences, the intensely worked textures, colours and forms which shape Jaramillo’s paintings emerge from sources that span history and cross cultures. These include contemporary fields such as science fiction and modernist industrial design (during high school, Jaramillo and a selected group of other students would make weekly visits to the celebrated designer Charles Eames’s studio) as well as Celtic and Greek mythologies, pre-Hispanic and non-Western systems of spatial organisation, and classical and sacred geometry. Each of these sources represents structures, conceived by individuals and societies, in order to organise our sensed experiences of the physical, spiritual and mental worlds. Underlying Jaramillo’s works is a powerful sense of geometry, an understanding of space and surface and the organisation of the world around us. This geometry is combined with a strong aesthetic engagement with material. Throughout her career, Jaramillo has relentlessly innovated with new processes: manipulating found materials, experimenting with earth pigments, creating texture and depth in the painted surface.
Jaramillo began working in Watts, Los Angeles, where until the mid 1960s she was immersed in the growing artistic community of the West Coast. Presented under the gender-neutral name 'V. Jaramillo', the artist’s early large-scale canvases received immediate critical acclaim and a wide audience when they were accepted into the prestigious annual exhibition of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for three successive years (1959–61). During this period, the painful events of the Civil Rights Movement and heightening social and racial tensions can be powerfully felt in the darkened palette, division of space and textural contrasts of Jaramillo’s paintings.
Following the 1965 riots in Watts, Jaramillo and her family relocated to New York City (following a year spent in Europe), where she became immediately involved in the burgeoning and dynamic arts scene. Her work evolved in response to this new environment of bold creative experimentation, particularly in the field of abstraction, and began drawing the attention of other artists, critics and curators. Her early 1970s ‘curvilinear' abstractions, vivid painted colour fields cut through by precise lines of colour that curve and intersect, were selected for inclusion in the 1972 Whitney Annual and the now-famous 1971 DeLuxe Show in Houston. The DeLuxe Show was one of the first racially integrated exhibitions in the United States supported by the Menil family, also including artists such as Sam Gilliam, Al Loving, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. As Jaramillo’s work has continued to evolve, she has been involved in numerous other significant, politically-engaged exhibitions and projects, contributing to the legendary feminist journal Heresies (she was on the editorial collective for the 1979 issue ‘Third World Women: the politics of being other’, and contributed visual work to this and a 1982 issue of the publication) and participating in a 1984 exhibition at the all-female A.I.R. Gallery in New York.
Jaramillo’s work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions at prestigious institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (1959–61), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1972), Mexican Museum, San Francisco (1980), A.I.R. Gallery, New York (1984), Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011), MoMA PS1, New York (2012) and the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2014). Selected public and corporate collections include the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Richfield, Connecticut; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Mexican Museum, San Francisco; Pasadena Art Museum, California; Kemper Museum, Missouri; Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas and the Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City.
In 2017 Jaramillo's work was featured in Tate Modern's exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (12 July–22 October 2017, London, UK) and the Brooklyn Museum's We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85 (21 April–10 September 2017, New York, USA). The artist's first solo exhibition with Hales also took place January 2017 at the gallery’s London location.