Pablo Jansana


03 Mar – 15 Apr 2023

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Rododendro, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Installation view

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Fantasma, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Watercolour, oil on found board, 37.5 x 56.5 cm

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I sing what you loved, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Gesso, watercolour, acrylic, oil on. board, 152 x 315 cm

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Rododendro, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Installation view

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Anoche me confesé, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Latex, water color and oil on board, 37,5 x 61 cm

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Kai Kai and Treng Treng, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Oil, acrylic on canvas, 420 x 216 cm

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Between wind and water. La gente es la misma, 2022

Pablo Jansana. Oil on paper, 33 x 42,5 cm

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A for a crime, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Oil and watercolour on board, 56 x 80 cm

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A for a crime, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Oil and watercolour on board, 56 x 80 cm

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Rododendro, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Installation view

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Rododendro, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Installation view

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Cisarro, 2022

Pablo Jansana. Oil and paper on board, 61 x 37,5 cm

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Agua hervida, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Oil, paper on board, 61 x 37.5 cm

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Lia, 2023

Pablo Jansana. Gesso, oil on found board, 37.5 x 61 cm

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The snail lives better in his shell, 2022

Pablo Jansana. Watercolour, pencil, oil on paper, 33 x 42.5 cm

Open Cases: On Pablo Jansana


By Martin Herbert


If we consider Pablo Jansana’s exhibition Rododendro as something akin to a crime scene—a gathering of beguilingly complex clues leading, ideally, towards a resolution—the viewer-as-detective might first approach the most visible body, which appears in Fantasma (2022). Here, a pale and naked human figure is floating diagonally in aquamarine space; this much we can assert. But there are deliberate obstructions to a conclusive reading, a diagnosis, that forecast where Jansana is going to lead us.

The painting is thinly executed on grainy board, and the green-blue background equivocates between water, overfertilized grass, and the naturalistic texture of wood. The figure, equally, might be swimming or dead or drowsing on a sunlit lawn, or—as the title, translating as ‘phantom’, suggests—not there at all, maybe just a hazy memory or scary rumour. The ‘about’ of the painting, amid such inbuilt ambiguity, is not the figure itself but the viewer’s (and artist’s) inability to grasp something and, contrarily, their determined attempts to do so. If you keep looking, perhaps now the two holes in the wood’s fabric resemble bullet holes. And if you turn to consider other paintings here, Fantasma will tilt more ominously still. Something bad has happened, another body added to an unknowable count, and someone—Jansana—is trying to find language for what we might only, at this point, carefully call ‘the crime’.

Rododendro takes its title from the Chilean cinematic master of poetic obliquity and time-expansion, Raoul Ruiz. During his multidimensional 2012 film Night Across the Street, a character who sometimes calls himself Rododendro splits into multiple selves at different ages, one whom shoots another albeit without managing to kill him. Ruiz isn’t a decoder for Jansana’s work here. But his approach parallels that of the painter’s fictioneering compositions, in which specific and invented figures from different eras and locations share space, sometimes accompanied by a breadcrumb trail of hints and references. Cisarro (2022), for example, features murky sadomasochistic situations in the foreground—pleasure from pain—and these melt, like elements of a warped psyche, into the face of Cristóbal Cabrera Morales, aka ‘Cisarro’, the now-jailed prodigious young hoodlum who might be said to symbolize the lawless side of Chilean society. Here is a hint that ‘the crime’, as it were, can be partially—though, as with everything here, not definitively—connected to Jansana’s homeland; and, if we extend that to his own life experience, the murderous, unconscionable military dictatorship amid which he grew up.

Cisarro is gouged and scratched with sandpaper and metal tools. Layers of paint have been disinterred, as if by reaching into the painting’s own past, its earlier layers, the artist might access the past and understand it. He partly does—there are things we can take and learn from this, and a feeling of a necessary reparative process in motion—but we never get all the way back. In Detectives and the Medium (2022), Jansana draws on the fact that Chilean police often consult spiritualists to solve crimes, and the trio of doleful figures seated around, perhaps, a crystal ball are relatively legible; but the painting is also a palimpsest, unpredictably layered with bubbling regions of ‘Magic-Sculpt’ epoxy clay. It’s notable that this formal approach is different from that of the other paintings mentioned above, and different in turn from other works on board such as Spectrum (2022), where sanding leads to a condition of radiant near-abstract obliteration. Traversing such works suggests someone trying on different alphabets of meaning, trying to find one that’ll articulate how he feels.

A viewer looking to close this ‘case’ might do a biographical read: Chilean artist, Chilean history and present that’s too big and worrisome to be imaged, case closed. But Jansana’s art resists such limiting. Ramona (2022) has two main elements, pulled from different places: a lefthand section picturing a revolutionary poster from the 1960s (and also recalling, perhaps, the failed Chilean revolution in 2019) and, rightward, a scene of male-on-female street violence, against a raw brick wall, based on a painting entitled The Alley by the English artist Carel Weight. The parameters of the crime, or simply the dimensions of human violence, here expand. Yes, Chile inflects Jansana’s art, but the history of the world is in many ways one of domination and violence on a multiplicity of scales, from individuals to juntas. It’s literally unspeakable but someone ought to speak of it; or speak of how you might speak of it.

And speak beyond it. For, all the above notwithstanding, Jansana’s art is inherently hopeful, operating in various ways against darkness. A key painting here, the densely worked, lyrical, near-abstract Don’t Slip Off My Chest, Sleep Close to Me has a dreamy nocturnal quality, inflected by its title with a sense of tender mutuality and human-to-human consolation that resounds in this context as the humane opposite of brutality. And much of the work speaks, in various ways, of a sense of possibility through change. Embedded deep in the large, enveloping, double-sided painting that descends from the gallery’s ceiling, Kai Kai and Treng Treng (2022), for example, is a pink-faced self-portrait, a figure that Jansana considers his alter-ago. Alongside this are a pair of serpents (named in the title), referring to a creation myth of the indigenous Chilean Mapuche, in which a sea serpent and a land serpent created the Earth by battling. But all of this is half-drowned in a polychrome scrabble of paint, and the verso is different again. What the viewer might draw from this is a sense of multiplicity: that artmaking is a way of marshalling multiple selves, in order to approach reality from different angles—because reality, including how you think the world began, is just how you perceive it.

We, as viewers, might also begin to split and multiply as we go from painting to painting, each with its own aesthetic, each inviting us to pass into and through it, like a portal. In that regard, note that Jansana’s paintings, at base, are always layered—even Fantasma, the most quickly worked, offers a conversation between paint and visible ground—and we can move through the accretions of paint (some earlier stages made visible by Jansana’s scratching and gouging). This movement, in fact, is double. Something seems always to be rising towards us, towards the surface of these works, albeit obscured; and the viewer is travelling inward to meet it. Maybe we can never quite get to it. But we’re at least facing it: in psychological terms, we are ‘doing the work’, undoing some species of repression—and again, this is scalable, from a national past to something within ourselves—and allowing for the possibility that we can self-transform.

This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in Jansana’s human alphabets, in which depictions of posed and bent figures form language, articulate sentences. In the poster that accompanies this exhibition—its text made from these acrobatic figures—the phrases that speak to Jansana’s key concerns: self-awakening and passage. Rododendro might speak, then, to the inevitable existence of trauma, of the pain of the world, and the idea that we need not repress it, be trapped within it, or stay as we were, irrevocably inheriting it. The clues, one might say, are there. But in the end the investigation is yours to pursue, the evidence yours to project into, the conclusions your own.

Visit Pablo Jansana’s website to have a further look into his pratice.