Diana de Solares: The Material Space of Radiance

The Space Between the Paragraphs

Diana de Solares’s atelier in Guatemala City is strewn with strips of paper. Long, thin clippings of different colors are piled on shelves and arranged by hue. They invite a certain playfulness, but they also indicate de Solares’s serious, years-long study of color. They attest to her visual, perceptual, and physical relationship with color. Look at these strips, touch them, hold them next to each other, understand them carefully and slowly. She reads about color too, about philosophy and perception. But hers is a study that is first rooted in looking, touching, and finding. We talk about physical knowledge, about the limitations of connecting knowledge only to language.

We talk about where ideas come from. How do we produce our own specific body of knowledge, and how does it exist within us or within our work? It is no coincidence that we describe knowledge as a body. “My body is my point of reference,” de Solares tells me in an email. Alongside a deep familiarity with theory and literature, de Solares works out from a physical understanding of the world around her. Her choice of colors, she says, is tied to her environment as well as the many layers of meaning found in the experience of color in everyday life. One abstract composition consists entirely of arrangements of shoelaces. Their exuberant colors reflect de Solares’s memories of childhood celebrations.

I tell de Solares about a U.S.-based poet and essayist, Maggie Nelson, whose 2009 Bluets is a long meditation on blue, which takes the form of short clips:

“33. I must admit that not all blues thrill me. I am not overly interested in the matte stone of turquoise, for example, and a tepid, faded indigo usually leaves me cold. Sometimes I worry that if I am not moved by a blue thing, I may be completely despaired, or dead. At times I fake my enthusiasm. At others, I fear I am incapable of communicating the depth of it. . . .

40. When I talk about color and hope, or color and despair, I am not talking about the red of a stoplight, a periwinkle line on the white felt oval of a pregnancy test, or a black sail strung from a ship’s mast. I am trying to talk about what blue means, or what it means to me, apart from meaning.”

What might this Guatemalan blue mean to me, apart from meaning? Its visceral qualities weigh on me, seduce me.

De Solares also collects and writes short texts in which she tries to get at truths about her work— about color, about space. These atrapados—caught things—are a manner of compiling ideas and placing them in conversation with one another without dictating what that conversation will mean. The making-of-meaning happens through the individual’s compilation and remix of them.

There is space between each paragraph in Nelson’s book—space for the reader to pause. This is a space that de Solares also explores. It is a dimension she deems both psychological and extensional. For example, she often places a totem near a painting, or arranges a series of wall sculptures together, near a set of drawings. Each individual object takes on certain characteristics, but they also draw out radiances from and with one another. Her mise-en-scène approach suggests a choreography.

In de Solares’s sculpture studio in Antigua, color has fled: it’s a forceful inversion of the painting studio. Here, the walls are concrete and the ceiling is high. The sounds and the colors of the landscape are filtered through the industrial materials of the patio awning that flanks the studio. De Solares’s sculptures, made of found construction materials—concrete blocks, rebar, and electrical cables—explore movement, line, and balance, rather than color. She pairs these materials with blocks of wood and branches from local plants. The shoelaces she collects at local markets are tightly wound in coils and attached to the ends of metal rods. The dialectic here is between building and growing, and the colors are those of metal, wood, and air. Each sculpture is built for this specific place, and the relationship between the sculptures and the studio creates elegant spatial arguments. Each sculpture balances. There is a particular way lines bend, elevate, and look, she says. There is nothing haphazard in their stance. Rather, like dancers caught in mid-movement, these structures are precarious and indisputably strong.

In the 2014 Paiz Biennial in Guatemala City, de Solares created a site-specific installation in a former downtown bodega. The piece, which she titled The Eyes of the Skin, included sound recordings, as well as totems, mattresses, objects, and a large mirror that seemed to extend the space infinitely, until the viewer comes across her own reflection there. For de Solares, the installation elicited a certain experience of peripheral viewing: at all times, there was a presence just at the edge of the eye. This is what it feels like to look at de Solares’s sculptures and paintings: in their simplicity, they open up a world of peripheral meanings that touch gently upon specific cultural referents. She probes an in-between-ness, leaning into the space between what we see and think we know, and what we perceive. These are the spaces where we make new connections, where we mine new possibilities. These are the pauses between the paragraphs. De Solares tells me about an artist who wants his works to be explosive and immediate. “I want the opposite for my work,” she says. “You enter the room and look for it, but you might miss it. . . . There’s no artifice in that. It’s just taking what is there. You use what your environment allows for.”

Laura A. L. Wellen

Laura A. L. Wellen is an independent writer and curator based in Houston.

Diana de Solares (Ciudad de Guatemala, 1952) studied architecture in the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, and later economy in Universidad Francisco Marroquín. She also studied independently with Juan de Dios González and Daniel Schafer. In 1996 she won the Glifo de Oro prize at the X Bienal de Arte Paiz, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala. She also received a Rockefeller Grant, Bellagio, Italy. Her works comprise mainly of sculptures, where she intends to make “provisional drawings in space.” She works mainly with objects, images, and materials found in domestic or industrial environments. Recent solo shows include The Corrections, The 9.99 Gallery, Guatemala City, Guatemala (2014); Proyect Room- PRESENTS 2: Alma Ruiz presents Diana de Solares, Josee Bienvenue Gallery, New York City (2014) En Tránsito, Sol del Río Arte Contemporánea, Guatemala (2013); and Prótesis, Piegatto Arte, Guatemala (2013). Recent group shows include Dirty Geometry, Mana Contemporary, Miami (2014); Length x Width x Height, The 9.99 Gallery, Guatemala (2014); Y… ¿entonces?, The 9.99 Gallery, Guatemala (2013); and Existir en un estado de peligrosa distracción, Bienal de Arte Paiz, Guatemala (2010). Her work can be found in the collections of Teófilo Cohen (Mexico), Anabella y Fernanda Paiz (Guatemala), and Rina Carvajal (USA). She currently lives and works in Guatemala City.