Juan Tessi’s work is an ongoing exploration of the language of painting as it moves from one pictorial support, format and approach to another. The body is ever present, intersecting reflections on queer desire and the relation between painting and biological processes. Tessi has also explored the tension between craft and technology, approaching painting both as surface and as object, the results being the creation of very personal poetics always grounded in pictorial processes.
Born in 1972 in Lima, Perú, Tessi lives and works in Buenos Aires. He graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has had sixteen solo exhibitions, including Cameo in 2016, at MALBA, Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires —a major regional art institution— as well as shows at galleries in Buenos Aires; Lisbon, Portugal; Santiago, Chile; Sao Paulo, Brazil and a solo presentation at Frieze New York. Group exhibitions include Ultramar: Fontana, Kuitca, Tessi, Seeber at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain and Empujar un Ismo at the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires, Argentina, among others.
In the early 2010’s Tessi created a series of enigmatic abstract paintings by listening to an 80’s diva make-up tutorial and following its instructions. In a later series he peeled off the “skins” of paintings, then attached them to stretched raw linens, holding these “skins” against the fabric through the static electricity generated by plexiglass shapes resting on its surface. For his 2016 solo exhibition at MALBA, Tessi presented a two-stage exhibition. During its first weeks the paintings were placed in unexpected spots within the building: those where surveillance cameras were pointed to, such as the parking lot, the ticket counter, even an outdoor terrace where the works were exposed to rain, sun and wind. The proper exhibition room held a series of monitors showing what the surveillance cameras were recording. The paintings moved into the exhibition hall only during the last weeks of the show. A series developed between 2016 and 2019 treated the canvases as bodies for ceramic heads, which concentrated all of the painterly gestures outside the canvas itself. In recent years Tessi deliberately looked at paintings of early modernists Mardsen Hartley and Arthur Dove, allowing himself to soak up those influences.
In a recent essay about Juan Tessi’s work, Javier Villa, senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires, places his work in a lineage that belongs neither to the linear, “monotheistic” tradition of European Modernism, nor to the impulse towards “anthropophagy” (as influential Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade employed the term) of other Latin American avant-garde movements —meaning art that devoured inheritances and influences from colonizers—. Rather than banning the past or engulfing its perceived enemies, Villa sees in Tessi’s pictorial strategies a similar approach to that of ancient Meso American cultures: to incorporate others’ deities into one’s own pantheon in order to become stronger. “His is a political manner of creating”, Villa argues, “one which aims at generating a new species. Tessi’s painting takes temporal and stylistic jumps, from one work to the next or even within each painting, with the self-assurance provided by the ethics of his inclusive pantheon”.
“Tessi is a sort of prophet of pictorial interspecies…It is not important which of the deities is being incarnated, what matters is to challenge the limits of painting and the closure of language…” Villa goes on to describe Tessi’s 2018 exhibition Manglar, as an amphibious habitat where diverse crosscurrents intersect: pre-Columbian imagery, Orientalist exoticism, the lyricism of early XX century North American painting, conceptual thought processes influenced by local informalism. An ecosystem capable of hosting a multitude of species which, in turn, will give rise to new ones. A “trans” habitat, where everything can relate to everything else. In this regard, Tessi is a profoundly Latin American artist. “His is a painting which is not concerned with accumulating moral gestures…A painter who is not engaged in a historical battle, but works with the impunity and the certainty of knowing that the deities are on his side. A self-confidence that only an artist from a colonized region can afford. A European or North American artist would not mix Pre-Columbian imagery and exoticizing orientalism without worrying about an underlying political morality. From the standpoint of love and hedonism, Tessi paints whatever he pleases.” Villa concludes.