CCA Wattis, San Francisco

Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts / 360 Kansas Street
CA 94103-5130 San Francisco

plan route show map

artist / participant

press release

The Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero makes paintings in unexpected places that behave in unpredictable ways, depicting mental landscapes and bizarre, monstrous figures with restless abstraction. Updating traditional mural conventions, and playing with graffiti expression and the poetics of space, Herrero paints not only on the outsides of buildings but also the bottoms of swimming pools, the insides of parking garages, freeway underpasses, and buses. In the gallery, his work often extends beyond the boundaries of the canvas in a seeming stream of consciousness. His giddy use of brilliant color is "polluted" by discreet detailed drawings in pen and marker that violate what would otherwise be a decorative, formal pattern. His works convey a sincere enjoyment of painting as a medium, but they challenge painting's traditional methods and media with elements of play, pleasure, and humor.

Live Surfaces By Jens Hoffmann

Over the last decade, the Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero has emerged as one of the most important figures in the field of visual art in Central America. Typically working in the medium of painting, his artistic practice is hugely influenced by the politics, cultural traditions, and natural splendor of his home country. Herrero translates the mix of colors, shapes, and forms of the streets of San José and the abundant tropical landscape that surround the city, onto gallery walls or canvases. His works are best described as a brisk and intense play between geometric and organic forms, from which he creates nonrepresentational narratives that are caught in the gap between figuration and abstraction.

Herrero is particularly concerned with the encounter between culture and nature. He carefully observes the tropicalized urban environment of Costa Rica, which is often on the verge of being reclaimed by an exuberant and seemingly unstoppable vegetation. Other inspirations include street signs, graffiti, tropical plants, colored curbs, found pieces of painted metal and wood, the multicolored houses of rural areas and suburbs, traditional painted advertisements, old billboards and other pictorial, non-language based forms of communication from the cityscape, as well as the long history of mural making in the region. Each of these sources unites in his vigorous works to create an unusual mix of traditional, at times seemingly folkloristic, elements and sophisticated abstract forms that often carry an improvised appearance.

The artist has stated that he views each painting as a continuation of the one he did before. Working on several paintings at once, each begins to form a relationship and communicates with the other paintings, forming a fluid connection to the artist's previous works.

Herrero's works are informed by the specific urban conditions of Central America, where cities grow larger and more sophisticated while always maintaining a strong connection to rural areas, and the cities' edges melt into the jungle. This becomes particularly evident in the works the artist has made in situ, within the urban setting of various cities. For Fictional Publicity (2000) Herrero placed a number of small paintings, most executed on pieces of found wood, in trees around the city, altering the meaning and function of each site. Some would stay up for weeks, others were removed only a few moments after the artists placed them among the leaves and branches, while others would disappear only to reappear months later at other spots. Working in direct response to the city, the artist not only created his own exhibition site but placed artworks into public circulation without having any control over their final destination. Moreover, Herrero fuses the idea of a studio for the production of artworks and the function of the gallery as a place for the display of art into the public sphere, with both accessible to anyone.

For the Bienal De La Habana in 2003, Herrero painted a map of the world on the bottom of a public swimming pool, allowing the local Cuban population to metaphorically explore and swim to any place in the world. One of his most well-known works is a series of pieces titled Carefully Repainted Yellow Areas that the artist began to execute in 2003. For these works Herrero repainted the city curbs where the color had faded, at times adding newly painted curbs in between the official ones. Most recently the artist made Paisaje (2007), his largest site-specific mural to date. A highly dramatic work produced for the exhibition Encuentro de arte contemparaneo Medellin, in Colombia, Paisaje covered the enormous columns that support the railway near the Parque Berrio's Metro station in the centre of the city.

Yet, Herrero always returns to the gallery space and the canvas, as places that offer refuge for discussing more personal issues in contrast to the surfaces of the city. In these private moments, Herrero's works consist of personal constructions of places and ideas realized within his canvases and murals in the form of cartoon like characters, small creatures that the artist describes as mental forms that represent distorted personal memories drawn from his daily experiences. For his Passengers solo exhibition Herrero will work outside the exhibition space to create a new mural on a street close to the Wattis Institute that will compliment the work Landscape(2007) exhibited during the Passengers group show inside the gallery.

only in german

Federico Herrero