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Gilberto Aceves Navarro, divertimentos in mass and relief

A real breath of fresh air.

Patrick Modiano: Chien de printemps (1993).

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, a proverb that our living treasure takes at face value, playfully inviting us into his imaginary. As though it were purely a distraction, he kneads the clay or wax, folding, torturing and squeezing the material until he has produced a kind of plausible caricature. Unaware of what he is creating, he amuses himself. He does not take himself seriously, and often even disdains volume unless it permits public, urban formats (avenida Chapultepec, UAM-Xochimilco, UAM-Azcapotzalco, Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City; Paseo Bol.var en Chihuahua to name but a few examples), favoring silhouettes, reliefs and shadows.

More perseverance can be found in his drawings and painting, since, obsessed with challenges, he seeks to extract masses and contours, weights, densities and depths from flat surfaces. An eternal child, he designs his contraptions to forget the circumstances that engulf him against his will, arguing with and transgressing them. How? By ridiculing them, making a dent in their seriousness and solemnity: frolicking, lingering and mocking. Art, way of life, creed and liturgy. Indeed, in the absence of concepts, commitments are volatile. Being, in order to do. He would amuse himself by writing to Gonzalo de Berceo: messing around with the subject, sizing himself up to it, peeling away the shells wrapped around the world. Our artist never seeks to convince; he uses up his energy in courting the viewer, whom he longs to make his accomplice, coming hell or high water, overcoming their resistance. He does not appeal to reason but to vitality, through the artifice of the conundrums he fashions in his idleness, those beings of pleasure in the Baroque courts, emotion worn out by good humor and Dadaist fancies.

At times he is Velázquez in the ambulatories of Madrid’s Alcázar, then changes into a circus or an arena, that nonsensical author by the name of Hugo Ball, setting up his own Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. An enemy of solitude, he puts the pieces together in random raptures and eruptions of ingenuity: by refusing to depict our most bronzed hero in the great exhibition Mi Juárez de todos los días (My Everyday Juárez) (National History Museum, Chapultepec Castle, 2006), he ends up exhuming the Guelatao statue from the drawers of a wardrobe, crowning the piece of furniture with his colossal head and adding the clownish shoes of a mime artist or fool to the feet of the chiffonier, “a chest of drawers for storing odds and ends.” He undertakes this task through hundreds of minuscule sculptures, legions of Zapotec natives bleached by kaolin and feldspar, in unburnished china, a tribute to the ceramics invented during the 2nd century Han dynasty of the East.

He obviously proceeds with rigor, concentrating intensely but easily: enjoying it, obtaining his dose of pleasure without modesty or sanctimony. He is a composer of shapes that defy all logic, not an apostle (in Greek: Απόστολος, “one sent on a mission”); as he adheres to his highly personal gospel, he ignore’s everyone else’s opinion, yet knows and scrutinizes everything. He therefore devotes himself to working on series that explain and reflect on others’ methods. And the best way to handle these displacements is to reinvent-design-metamorphose a means of transport in harmony with the environment, of a mechanic quality, outdoors: the bicycle, that locomotive device favored by children, bakers and messengers. A nimble, cheap, popular and, above all, healthy vehicle. A human propulsion device that attracted the attention of Leonardo da Vinci in what we now know as the Codex Atlanticus (quill and ink on paper; 61 x 44 cm; assembled and collected by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni in the late 16th century; Library of the Ambrosian Academy of Milan), in his folio 133v2, featuring the design of a precursor of the bicycle, which dates back to approximately1490.

Truth be told, our fable-teller is not very keen on exercise, preferring contemplation, delighting in female figures, reclined in a pose reminiscent of the chac-mool, or standing with their face turned away and their hand on their crotch, thinking of Pablo Neruda. “I have branded the white atlas of your body with crosses of fire”, even though they are thin women, with dark bronze, “densely freckled”, earth-colored skin. And the procession of skaters, the inviting chairs, waving hands or severed heads. Smiling and laughing, his works portray a festive display of sensitivity which, despite his uncontainable critical spirit, finds refuge in the force of joy.

For Gilberto Aceves Navarro (1931), his workshop is his cell and royal chamber, where he finds his raison d’être: composing fantastical objects, whose realism is deformed by irony and intelligence. A prisoner of his own talent, this irrepressible storyteller proves that he is at the top of his form, knowing that he can go for a ride on his bicycle or admire the girls going by.