Eusebio Hair Salon, Habana (Night), 2008 signed, titled and dated 'Enoc Pérez April 2008 Eusebio Hair Salon Habana' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 81⅛ x 50⅜in. (206 x 127.8cm)
PROVENANCE: Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Paul Thiebaud, San Francisco.
"It's a matter of attraction-attraction to the building, to the object, to what I'm going to paint. In terms of architecture, I see buildings as ready-mades, in the Duchampian sense. I see them as metaphors, and I respond to metaphors almost physically-I know whether a building is something I want to use pretty much immediately." (E. Pérez quoted in D. Coggins, "Enoc Pérez", in Interview Magazine, reproduced at http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/enoc-prez/)
So says Puerto Rican born Enoc Pérez about the subject matter of his many architecturally based paintings which have garnered the artist much acclaim and notoriety over the past decade. Although he considers himself a New Yorker now that he has been in the City for over twenty years, Pérez will always associate part of his artistic identity with his native Puerto Rico. His love of architecture stems from his childhood memories and study of the modernist architecture of the hotels there and the utopian ideals that the architects who built them strived to convey through their structures. He notes that, "there's a true sense of believing in these buildings, and if you look at contemporary architecture, that's not as much the case. The fact that they're from a different era makes them nostalgic. I love painting, and I believe in painting, and I share that with these architects who believed in utopia. A lot of painters paint to question the medium, which might be perfect for them, but I'm one of those who really believes in painting." (ibid)
While Pérez's body of work uses studies of architectural forms as a means of paying homage to the cultural ideals of both the past and present, the method or technique he uses to construct his paintings references and honors something completely different and equally important. When Pérez immigrated to New York, he realized that to be a successful artist in the bustling city he would have to also be respectful of the rich artistic heritage that embodied the New York art scene. In the 1980s, there was no better figure to pay tribute to than Andy Warhol. During his nearly 40 year career, the master of Pop Art truly revolutionized the contemporary art making practice. Warhol's advancement with print making techniques coupled with traditional painting techniques, led Pérez to develop his own signature method that removed the paintbrush from the equation. The artist stated that, "the reason I came up with this unique process is, when I moved to New York in 1986, I thought, if I'm making paintings in this city I would like the work to have a relationship with the masters of this city-somehow it has to make sense within the tradition of the city. For my money, the work of Andy Warhol is hard to ignore, and he used the process of silkscreening in his paintings. I thought that my work should have a relationship to printmaking, and so through trial and error I found a way that suits my needs." (E. Pérez quoted in D. Coggins, "Enoc Pérez", in Interview Magazine, reproduced at http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/enoc-prez)
His somewhat complicated and time consuming practice begins by copying photographs and or found images on to sheets of paper, and then, similar to a print making technique, he creates a separate drawing for each color that will be present in the completed painting. He then applies a layer of oil paint to the reverse of each of the drawings and pushes the paper against the canvas, thus transferring the individual colors layer by layer and replicating the image in full color on to the canvas. The layering process interestingly, and perhaps intentionally, echoes the process of constructing a building. The results of his perfected technique are incredibly richly hued compositions which come alive in a way that a traditional painting struggles to, thus reflecting the artist's deep love for painting.
In the present work, Pérez present us with a view of the Eusebio Hair Salon built in 1954 by Manuel and Osvaldo Tapia Ruano in the center of Havana. It is not surprising why the artist chose this particular building as a subject for his painting. As noted Cuban architectural historian Eduardo Rodriguez notes about the small building which included apartments in addition to the hair salon, "though located in an architecturally traditional district, its aesthetic is extremely modern, to the point of creating a striking contrast to its neighbors. The narrow facade is fitted between two party walls, which is common in Centro Habana. Instead of presenting itself as a wall by pierced windows, it is itself entirely glazed over in a way that projects the interior space out to the street. The glass wall is slightly indented with respect to the property line of the adjacent building, so as to create a small recess that eliminates friction between visitors to the building and the busy flow of passers-by." (E. Rodriguez, The Havana Guide: Modern Architecture 1925-1965, p. 195).
The building clearly reflects the meeting of the modern and the traditional in a manner in which neither is given precedence nor left overshadowed. The salon building is of course the primary focal point here as the modern elements of the building shine and fracture through the many glass facets, producein a striking image in and of itself. By choosing to depict the structure at night, Pérez heightens the luminosity of the building by working off the reflections in the glass and the play between the darkness outside and lights ablaze inside. Furthermore, the shadows created within the panes of glass seem to reflect even more contemporary structures, perhaps high-rises, which present the viewer with a third moment in architectural history.
The layering of the swatches of color on the surface of the canvas is almost palpable, producing a sense of texture, akin to the facade of a building. It is this combination of the "painted" surface, the striking imagery and vibrant coloring of the composition that imbue the painting with all of the elements and concerns that Pérez has so intently focused on throughout his career, making this work a key piece of his production.