Conversation with painter Juan Rodriguez Varon

The spontaneity of light

His paintings reflect the tropical light conditions of his homeland Colombia and at the same time recall the spontaneous working methods of the French Impressionists - Juan Rodriguez Varon's works testify to an openness to the immediate impressions that nature gives us. We spoke with the artist about pictorial experiments, light reflections and the ambiguity of colors at dawn.

by Marén Cohen Monroy, August 31, 2022
Juan Rodriguez Varon im Atelier
Juan Rodriguez Varon studioview

Juan Rodriguez Varon creates worlds of color on his canvases that blur the boundaries between figurativeness and abstraction. For example, he captures the shape of a leaf, a ray of light, or a reflection, and then uses painting to react spontaneously to this first impression. In doing so, he deliberately allows for coincidences such as lumps of paint from the brush, overlaps, and blending. This very free and spontaneous way of working creates an intense tension between the rectangular form, i.e. the geometry of the painting support, and the volume of the dynamic application of paint. Thus, the strongly curved brushstroke always seems freshly applied and the colors spring from a spontaneous impression. The artist thereby regards painting as an independent entity that wants to be separate from the world, but nevertheless actively interacts with it.

Born in Colombia in 1988, Juan Rodriguez Varon studied art at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. He went on to receive his Master of Fine Arts at the Belgian Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in 2020, where he also won the MFA Painting Award. In addition to the French CAMAC Centre d'art Marnay Art Center residency fellowship (2016), the artist completed another study residency in Mexico through Cobertizo Art Residency in 2021. He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in America and Europe.

Juan Rodriguez Varon Gemälde Jardin de Freda Nr.3
Juan Rodriguez Varon - Jardín de Freda no 3, Painting 2022, Oil on canvas, 140 x 195 cm

How would you describe your art?

In my work I search for forms of tension in the field of color. I start from ordinary visual events, which I try to imitate with the painting on a flat surface. Through experiments with the image and the material, new tensions arise between the color fields, which are always unique in their vibration, juxtaposition and gesture.

How do you start with a work? How does your individual process begin?

I am constantly observing my surroundings. I start from everyday and simple events, such as the quality of a shadow, the vibration of a sunset through the clouds, or the light projected through a pond, and try to imitate them through painting. As I begin painting, applying layers that I believe will lead me to what I have seen, the new events on the canvas begin to speak for themselves. They then become the actual subject of my work, as I begin to pay more attention to what is happening on the painting itself than to my original idea. In this way, my work moves in a flow between depiction and abstraction. 

What media do you use to create color, and what fascinates you about it?

Oil painting. What fascinates me most about it is the transparency, plasticity and depth it gives to the paint, as well as the fact that it is elastic and yields to the energy and force with which it is treated. 

What influences your choice of color?

The special temperament of colors, that each combination is. I can consider a painting as an arrangement of colors. It is precisely this way in which the colors (which are also material) are arranged by the peculiarity of their handling and thus bring a tension of light and space in a painting.

How should the colors of your works be perceived?

As light that is reflected. I would consider the painting (like any other seen object) as something revealed by the light reflected from its surface.   

Is there an artist or art movement that has particularly influenced you? 

Some moments and masters of the European painting tradition are particularly influential for me. Considering that I first learned about many of these works through books and screens, I was very interested in understanding the physical reality of these works. The Gothic and early Renaissance paintings of il Sassetta, Piero de la Francesca, and Fra Angelico, to name a few, are characterized by their clear, harmonious, and eloquent use of space, bordering on flatness and creating the illusion of depth. Masters like Titian or El Greco because of the freedom with which the painting is manipulated. The Spanish Baroque because of the exquisite rendering of light and shadow. Manet, Monet and many painters of the XIX century who approached the understanding of light. Modern painters like Matisse because they break with the heaviness of tradition to grasp the essence of what is observed. I greatly admire American abstract expressionism for its pursuit of the "essence" of the medium of painting (Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko). Armando Reveron, a Venezuelan proto-impressionist painter, because he responded to the clear light of the Macuto beach and brought an almost monochromatic, flickering glow to a hard hemp canvas. The tradition of Eastern painting also influenced me because of the idea of empty space. Freda Sargent, an English painter who lives in Colombia, has influenced me most recently because she creates vivid, deep atmospheres with an amazingly intelligent use of gray.  

Juan Rodriguez Varon Gemälde Eclipse en Tauro
Juan Rodriguez Varon - Eclipse en tauro (Lago), Painting 2021, Oil on canvas, 109 x 132,5 cm

What color has your world?

Blue - just because lately I've been interested in how objects and shadows come together in twilight.  

At what moment do you find the light the most beautiful?

At the beginning of the evening. I have the idea that the earth during sunset is like a prism that shows the colorful range of sunlight in the sky. The possible variations come from the current atmospheric conditions and the topography of the place where one is. Since the intensity of the light is weaker in the evening, the shadows of the objects resemble the light, which gives them a very volatile ambiguity in color. 

Do you have a favourite colour?

Black, being the absence of light, its contrast effect allows you to see colors which contain light. Although, of course, I do not have a favorite color. I am interested in all colors when I imagine that they are the reflection of light - depending on the nature of the molocular structure of the surface of an object. It is the possibility that the light is reflected on any object.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be?

A gardener. I love plants. I feel like I want to live amidst their beauty and tranquility. It's satisfying to watch them grow and see how they behave depending on the conditions. The kind of spaces you can create with them, how they affect them, that's really satisfying. That desire is why my painting focuses on natural subjects.

Name: Juan Rodriguez Varon
Date of birth: June 01, 1988
Place of birth: Bogotá, Colombia
Residence: Bogotá, Colombia
Instagram: @juanrodriguezvaron
Gallery: Nueveochenta, Bogotá, Colombia


Juan Rodriguez Varon Gemälde Celofan
Juan Rodriguez Varon - Celofán, Painting 2022, Oil on canvas, 135 x 560 cms
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