Jorge Tacla: Lost in Translation

The impact of Jorge Tacla’s paintings as a whole stems from their engagement with an aesthetic conflict embedded deep within their structure; whose essence entails grappling with some of the more puzzling ambiguities inherent in the act of seeing. Due to their deliberate entanglement in phenomena that occur at the interstices of thought and perception, these works are quite successful in eluding the viewer’s initial attempts to reduce the encounter with them down to a single, defining principle. In fact, because the artist has been pursuing this line of investigation over the course of several years, one is not even aware at first of having wandered into the phenomenological thicket that his paintings represent. Seduced by the suave assurance with which he constructs them, it does not at first occur to us that Tacla’s thoughtful weaving together of landscape, gesture, and pictograph is leading us to a point where all forms of representation are essentially equal because each one is capable of being rendered meaningless.


Departing in stylistic terms from the direction indicated by his work over the last few years, Tacla’s most recent paintings have taken a turn toward greater looseness of composition, and less crowding of the visual field. While the fields of the pictorial incident are in themselves not quite as dense, in general spatial terms the works also flow more easily from open to articulated areas, with fewer extremes at either end. Although these observations might encourage one to conclude that the paintings are automatically more lyrical than their immediate predecessors, this does not actually seem to be the case. O the contrary, these works seem to be even more effected by the conflict hinted at above, between the struggle to make one’s message clear, and the corresponding need to conceal the sources of one’s impulses—a psychological tension which has always been present in Tacla’s work, albeit to a lesser degree. To take one example, the sparse, blunt-edged picture known as General Notion, while highly restrained in terms of color and gestural detail, also conveys a strange tension that seems rooted in the possibility of its own impending emptiness. The kinetic effect produced by the skittish, calligraphic style of drawing reveals hidden overtones of discomfort in the jostling together of multiple systems of representation.


I have written elsewhere in regard to Tacla’s work that “such visual ambiguity actually works in the artist’s favor by allowing the imagery to be mixed or layered in with other representation, forming a complex and only partially unified field.” However, with the seemingly minor innovation of introducing legible written phrases into the pictorial field, Tacla has changed the balance of representation drastically. In a painting like Cone of Vision, for example, descriptive words and phrases related to the neurological components of sight slip in and out of the “whitewashed” field that has spread over most of the painting’s surface, along with fragments of diagrams that may or may not belong to the same frame of reference. A ruddy patch of Chilean desert, more thickly rendered, but no less ambivalent in its description, floats with its own thin shadow over the painting’s upper section, blocking the same words and doodles like a dark scab. The mate to this painting is Ground Line, in which an ochre fragment of the same desert peers just right of center through an even busier field of half-erased equation, diagrams, and descriptions. Although convincing at first glance for their sheer pictorial bravado, the peculiar way in which these pictorial devices relate to the other issued in his art does not really add up to a replace aesthetic criteria with their linguistic counterparts.


In the most recent episodes of the story of the struggle for painting’s soul, the artist’s touch has often been placed at total odds with the seductiveness inherent to certain late industrial techniques of applying color to a surface. But in Tacla’s work it is generally quite difficult to derive a clear meaning from the interaction played out between one system of representation (mechanical) and another (gestural); each begins with an equal likelihood of success or failure, with no obvious preferences revealed by the artist himself. If anything, Tacla’s style incorporates the recognition of (if not a full agreement with) the most apparent outcome of this discourse over recent years—namely, the diminishment of the gesture, no matter how abstract, romanticized or self-parodying, as a meaningful signifier in the encounter between artist and viewer. This possibility seems to play a significant role in a painting like Projective Transformation, in which the “sky” is represented in terms of highly animated pictographs, while the “earth” is covered by scribbles that are vague in every aspect, except for their quintessentially 20th Century appearance. The fact that the work is cleanly divided into two parts suggests that its author is similarly divided as to where to place his loyalties. Even the blur of the horizon plays witness to the belief that utopian visions can be wrung from between the minor seams to both pre-classical and post-modern modes of expression, provided the artist is willing to lay claim to any such history as his or her own.


I am not hoping to suggest via this line of argument that Tacla’s recent work is somehow indecisive or mute; rather, that it consistently describes a state of linguistic transparency that has been crafted by the artist to engage a plurality of issues, themes and even historical references without having to commit himself to any one of them. In a sense, Tacla is most comfortable working within a critical gray zone, where the interpretation of gestural devices acts as more than a formalistic code, or the occasion of quasi-mystical ramblings. In his concerted attempt to describe a suspended intermediary state between variant stylistic languages, the artist affirms that one of the most characteristic things about good painting is that it will invariably resist even the most persistent attempts at direct translation. In achieving this approximate stage in the re-contextualization of his sources, Tacla holds out several optional ways to interpret his work, but insists that the viewer is absolutely free to recognize them or not. Like the “top secret” floor plan tucked away into the painting Plan of Pentagon, it is not always possible to explain away the significance of Tacla’s choices, even when we are left feeling quite certain that he knows.


Viewed as statements about the imposed boundaries between linguistic systems, these works address a much broader terrain than that encompassed by painting’s localized crisis within the limited format of so-called high art. In Tacla’s paintings, to borrow again from an earlier text, “the effective folding together of inside and outside, of skeleton and skin, is apprehended first as a simple problem of form, and only later revealed as the deus ex machina that lends the work its compelling aura.” However, the frail, translucent scrim stretched across the inchoate rubble of the physical world, which once seemed a self-contained entity, now seems to play an active role in the process of jogging the collective memory that one tends to take away from an encounter with his work: a feeling that something is familiar not because it can be remembered per se, but because it has come so close to being forgotten. Although ultimately these paintings may serve as important keys to deciphering the artist’ distinctively personal iconology, for the time being their primary role seems to be to document the mystery of the creative impulse at its point of inception—as workable a metaphor as one could hope for to describe Tacla’s quirky but remarkable ability to touch upon quasi-formal equivalents for linguistic connections which we are no longer consciously aware of possessing.

Dan Cameron

New York

September 1993

Dan Cameron. 1993