Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Jorge Rojas’s Material Meditations Emphasizes Process Over Product

Jorge Rojas is a master of the minimal. Visibly obvious in his latest exhibition Material Meditations at the Utah Vally University Museum of Art, Rojas’s decades-long exploration of tactile materials reveals deep intrinsic meanings that may not be obvious at first glance. “I begin a piece with a feeling rather than an idea,” says Rojas. “It is in the act of making that the meaning is revealed.” The four works in Material Meditations reflect the deeply spiritual, physical, and investigative process of their creation, exposing the purity in repetition and the rawness of Rojas’s materials speaking simply for themselves.

“Into the Light” is deceptively understated. Exploring wax melted over spray-painted panels, the piece exhibits a subtle color gradient that upon closer inspection holds resounding character. Small bubbles of air caught beneath the surface of the wax trap secrets within the rectangular panels, where wrinkles formed by the wax’s drying process show individual personalities. Each panel differs from its neighbor. The work acts like a procession, aging in transition from one panel to the next. The paint below the wax panels becomes more than a solid block. Highlights emerge from below the wax that create a sense of murky depth. The panels suddenly become portals, separated by the thick wax that protects the painted underbellies.

Jorge Rojas, “Into the Light,” 2021, aerosol and wax on panels

Jorge Rojas, “I Wanna Melt With You,” 2021, crayon on sandpaper on panel

Wax is a main player in Rojas’s material repertoire. Central in each work of the exhibition, the substance is explored through various lenses of Rojas’s choosing. In “I Wanna Melt With You”, a six by seven grid of flesh-toned sandpaper squares is coated in a layer of crayon, the medium clinging to the rough sandpaper in waxy clumps. Rojas is playful with his materials. Compared to “Into the Light”, the wax is represented in an entirely different way as a different property of the material is put on display. The crayon is a playful utensil, and when filed down and coated on the flesh-toned sandpaper it creates a sort of waxy veil, appearing more prevalently on darker squares.

The grid is a recurring motif in Material Meditations that holds unique properties. Purity in repetition exists in the grid that is emphasized by the purity in Rojas’s approach to materials. In “Quantum Grid”, the grid form is heightened through conscious layering. Undoubtedly the most intricate piece in the exhibition, a black sandpaper grid sets the background for a grid of red, black, white and yellow wax squares. Upon the squares sit associated wax half-spheres, highlighting wax’s ability to be melted and hardened and to take the shape of its mold. Once again. Rojas is playful yet straightforward, pulling on the material’s innate properties without obscuring their recognition. Much like in “I Wanna Melt With You”, “Quantum Grid” plays with the cleanliness of uniformity. Subtle patterns begin to emerge from the materials, forming pathways of vision throughout the work.

Jorge Rojas, “Quantum Grid,” 2021, wax, sandpaper, crayon, acrylic paint, spray adhesive

In “With You”, the play on vision becomes very apparent. Two spray painted rectangles sit beneath a layer of hardened wax, much like in “Into the Light”. One red and one blue, the rectangles become diffused beneath their wax cast, their edges becoming soft and diluted. It is almost as if the hardened wax is like skin, sporting wrinkles and imperfections meant to protect the interiors beneath it. The red and blue rectangles act as blood, entering the heart and leaving it blue and oxygenated. The entire exhibition seems to reflect the idea of the body, the grid appearing like a crowd of people from a far glance heightened by the use of flesh tones and materials. Materials begin to take on personalities that melt, mold, crack, and chafe alongside other materials. The pieces in the exhibition reveal aging, blending, standing out, and surviving, especially when layered over top of each other.

With Rojas, the meaning of his works is not at the forefront of his product. Rather, there is an emphasis on the works’ creation, a deep meditation that yields shocking discoveries. By gaining a deeper understanding of the materials he works with, Rojas is able to draw broader, uncalculated conclusions about the body, identity, belonging and physicality. The purity of his work is able to stand on its own, while the meaning arrives later.

Jorge Rojas, “With You,” 2021, wax and aerosol paint, pine

Jorge Rojas: Material Meditations, Utah Valley University Museum of Art, Orem, through Sep. 16

Images by the author

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