In Daniel Callori’s new paintings, a struggle is taking place. His plasmatic shapes threaten to burst their limits and bleed out. His colors are so luminescent, they seem poised to escape the canvas and bathe the environment, overwhelming our eyes. Callori maintains the equilibrium, but just barely. He still lets us sense the excitement and the vitality of the act of painting, along with the risks that come with staying right on the line between form and formlessness. Drawing on all the potentials of oil paint and playing many variations on the simple opposition of figure and ground, Callori creates works of immense, opulent complexity.
Callori draws on the rich tradition of abstraction in Argentina, but, like many great abstract works, these also include reminders of representation. In Sin despedida, something like the night sky can be glimpsed behind the yellow and green biomorphic forms. There’s a black emptiness that recalls photographs of deep space, and the top right-hand quadrant evokes the murky, hellish ether from the background of Bosch’s Last Judgment or Bruegel the Elder’s Triumph of Death. Callori doesn’t depict the sky, but his paintings include depths and colors full of sensual and historical reminiscences. They’re just analogies, but they orient us.
The works exhibited, all painted in 2015, are the result of a unique process, like most of Callori’s oil paintings. He begins with a 32 by 24mm glass slide, like the kind schoolchildren use to look at pond water or blood under a microscope. Using a small spatula, Callori applies tiny dabs of oil paint to the slide, which he then covers with a second slide, sometimes rubbing the two slides together to manipulate the shapes formed by the paint. He repeats the process, applying paint on top of the second slide, the third slide…. He often winds up with ten layers. The result is a miniature painting on glass that is remarkably dense.
In Callori’s studio, dozens of these painted slides make up his archive. When he’s thinking about a new work on canvas, he selects a slide, photographs it, prints the photo on postcard-sized paper, and projects the print onto the canvas with an opaque projector. Until recently, the projected image was his strict guide. In the past two years, though, he has begun to experiment, using the slide as a model that he often strays from, balancing the conceptual rigor of his method with the immediate demands that arise in the process of painting.
Callori’s procedure places him in a long line of painters who rely on optics, a tradition famously chronicled by David Hockney in his 2001 book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Hockney argues that many painters – from Caravaggio to Ingres – relied on lenses, mirrors, and other devices to create their “uncannily accurate” depictions of bodies and objects. Callori’s technique does something different for him. His lenses, slides, and projector allow him to examine painting itself. He works with his paints as if under a microscope and then blows up the results of his experiments.
Perhaps it is because of this intimacy and the subsequent distance from it that Callori can bring to light so many of the expressive possibilities available to oil painting and to abstraction. Perhaps this is what creates the electric tensions that run through his works. These new paintings oscillate between the miniature and the expansive, between human and technological sight. They make us aware of how many ways there are to look at a surface: at a landscape, at a wall, at a computer screen, at a face. Callori shows us that every type of vision is worth exploring, that each of them contains a world of thinking and feeling.