ABRASIVE SILENCE IS the provocative title of Foltz Fine Art's current exhibition of more than 50 recent paintings by Houston artist Ibsen Espada. The spacious, sunlit gallery resounds with the musicality and rhythms of Espada's artworks, some on canvas, some on rice paper, all of which hang together like a silent symphony of juicy colors and mysterious textures.
Born in New York in 1952, Espada grew up in Puerto Rico. He began creating art under the tutelage of Cuban expat Rolando Lopez Dirube, a deaf man, whose modes of expression included painting, wood carving and printing.
Espada and his family relocated to Houston in 1975, where he studied with Dorothy Hood, another important mentor, and would be selected as one of just three Latino artists for the 1985-1986 exhibition Fresh Paint: The Houston School, hosted by the MFAH. Abrasive Silence includes a separate room works from this era, including a large painting from 1989 titled Frequency, in which Espada's distinctive calligraphic lines and hermetic symbols tumble and twirl like wreckage caught inside a tornado's funnel.
Throughout his career, Espada has experimented with unusual combinations of materials. In his newest works, carborundum, an abrasive powder that can be bonded for use inside a bullet-proof vest, is sprinkled over paint that has been applied to the canvas using such unconventional tools as windshield wipers. The results contain all the energy of a focused meditation, with plenty of layers and space for the willing viewer to let themselves get lost in.
It's been eight years since Espada has had a solo show, which makes Abrasive Silence even more of a cause for celebration, though seeing how his work has continued to evolve is what makes this show so special. Perhaps there is power in embracing silence, and taking time away to work on one's craft?
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