Essay by Florencia Portocarrero
The unconscious dimensions of the mind have been an area of study since psychology was professionalized at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite the differences in various schools of thought, today each agrees that a large portion of perception occurs automatically, without interfering with conscious tasks. In this way, the unconscious information we receive is consequential, both in examining our internal states of mind and in our responses to the environment.
Spurred by a scientific mindset, Gestalt psychologists in the early 1900s became interested in studying perception. They attempted to identify general rules that would explain how the sensory fields are organized, particularly the visual. Early abstract artists associated with the school of Bauhaus saw a connection between this research and their quest to establish general artistic principles that would allow them to claim abstraction as a language that is universally applicable and independent of cultural and historical variables. At the end of the 1920s, and in one of the most significant instances of interaction between psychology and art, Gestalt psychologists were invited to Bauhaus to lead specialized seminars that brought together artists such as Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky. According to the Dutch art and science researcher Cretien van Campen, the striking similarities between early abstract painting and experimental Gestalt illustrations are the result of this reciprocal influence.
In Tras los ojos (Behind the Eyes)—a large-scale digital print adapted from a painting and commissioned by Landmarks for the university’s Department of Psychology—Eamon Ore-Giron illuminates and adds complexity to this story. On multiple occasions, the artist has referred to abstraction as the “root of perception,” and reaffirmed his interest in inscribing his public art projects within an abstract tradition that resists fixed meanings. Ore-Giron—who has been selected for significant public commissions in New York and Los Angeles—is aware of the importance of allowing his work to be quickly and viscerally read, especially when it is located in high-traffic spaces. However, his commitment to abstraction does not come at the expense of deeper discussion. On the contrary, as curator Ondine Chavoya has noted, Ore-Giron combines geometric and elemental forms to tell a story of intense cultural exchanges—a story that subverts the linearity of Eurocentric artistic genealogy and favors perspectives inspired by Latin American artistic traditions.
Permeating Ore-Giron’s work to varying degrees is a desire to investigate how cultures and identities entangle with each other, as they do in his own life, or to put it in another way, to explore the experiences and perspectives of those who embody mestizaje (“being mixed race”). The artist was born and raised in Tucson to a Peruvian father and a mother of Irish descent. Later, he pursued his BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA at the University of California. Before moving permanently to Los Angeles, the artist spent time studying in Mexico City, and in Huancayo and Lima, Peru. Much later, he also lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a year.
In each of these contexts, Ore-Giron has been concerned with building bridges between diverse, and sometimes seemingly disparate, cultures, classes, and ideas and generating projects that include music, video, and that are distinguished by forging temporary communities based on dialogue and artistic experimentation. His paintings also reflect his deep affinity for the Latinx community and challenge the erasure of its stories from the North American public sphere. Curator Miranda Lash affirms that, in his figurative work of the early 2000s, Ore-Giron recreated a surreal world in which his family memories of the Peruvian Andes and the American Southwest fuse organically. At the same time, his recent geometric paintings explore the visual possibilities of intercultural influence, highlighting the persistence of marginalized forms as they become more integrated into the hegemonic culture.
In Ore-Giron’s work for Landmarks, a fascination with the intersection of psychology, art, and perception is evident. After talking with psychology faculty members, the artist chose the eye and the process of vision as a metaphor for the information that reaches the mind involuntarily. His biography also played a role in this decision. When Ore-Giron turned twenty-eight, he discovered a small black spot obstructing his vision. He initially believed it was temporary, but medical tests revealed it to be a genetic condition—linked to retinal detachment—that also afflicted his father and that ultimately led his family to emigrate to the United States instead of settling in Peru as his parents had planned. This episode encouraged Ore-Giron to reflect on the role of anatomy in our perceptions of reality. Tras los ojos combines scientific diagrams of how the human eye works while also drawing on the artist’s own experiences and impressions of moving between different cultures in the United States and Peru.
For Tras los ojos, Ore-Giron also found inspiration in Furturism’s sense of movement as well as the methods of Constructivism, which emphasize the process of production and the use of cutting-edge technology. Although the work appears to be a large-scale painting, it is a digital print on canvas, specially conceived for continuous display in a public space. However, in contrast with Constructivism’s preference for mechanical-industrial imagery, the artist integrated direct references to the natural world. For instance, observing the image, one is struck by the central zigzag that resembles lightening or a ray. And in a subtle but significant variation from other recent abstract pieces, Ore-Giron introduced softly curved lines and forms near the composition’s upper edge, a space he referred to as “the stratosphere of painting,” and “the edge of the atmosphere where things start to bend.”
Toward the center, the image gains momentum and appears to lift with energy. The palette of deep, solid colors evokes the moments of darkness before sunset, as various shades of purple, sky blue, and pale pink project conical shapes and gradient rays that appear to evaporate toward the borders. Ore-Giron designed the mural vertically, from bottom to top, applying the composition’s elements along two equidistant vertical lines. This totemic structure is reminiscent of some patterns of the neo-Concrete school of Latin America and Peruvian pre-Columbian textiles and architecture. Through the simultaneous citation of these various elements, the artist questions modernist and purist theories of form—including Gestalt—and shows that form is inherently social and political. In doing so, his work expands the artists, communities, and geographies traditionally related to abstraction.
Ore-Giron’s artistic practice creates a shared space where European, pre-Columbian, contemporary indigenous, and popular Latin American influences coexist. This polyvocal vision not only challenges the foundational myths of artistic modernity but also opens a necessary dialogue about the representation and participation of the Latino community in the United States. Despite extreme economic, ethnic, racial, and national diversity, Latinos have been the largest minority in North America since around 2001. By prioritizing family migration and diaspora stories over national-patriarchal narratives, the artist highlights the diversity of a community that lives within multiple cultural traditions. In today’s increasingly xenophobic environment, the intercultural and interdependent future imagined by Ore-Giron’s work is more relevant than ever.