by: Oona Taper on July 8th, 2015 | Comments Off
Working with oils, watercolors, and acrylics, Argentinian artist Darío Mekler creates bold, colorful paintings that address the complexities of modern life. He skillfully uses fantasy and humor to illustrate human nature, painting monsters, angels, and absurd robots alongside images drawn from everyday experiences.
Mekler has been creating for as long as he can remember. “Making things feels pretty natural to me, since when I was very little,” he says. “Not just drawing, but all kinds of creative activities: inventinggames, building things out of paper, writing.” His interest in visual art began with a love of comic books: “Early on in my teens I used to read a lot of comics from Marvel. I learned to draw by copying and making my own comics.” Mekler’s early interest in comics is still apparent in his paintings’ bright colors, clear characters, and sense of narrative, and in his talent for dynamically including two scenes in one piece, as in “Altered Polarities,” in a style reminiscent of comic book panels. Later he discovered a love for fine art, when he “stumbled upon a painting by Magritte,” Mekler says. “I remember it being influential. That’s when I realized that there was another type of fantasy apart from the monsters and superheroes I was used to; something more subtle, intriguing, uneasy, even comical.” Mekler went on to study graphic design at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires, where he was introduced to and influenced by a wide range of styles and artists. Although he “took a bit from everywhere,” Mekler says he “particularly like[s] the period of art ranging between the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth: Academic art, Art Nouveau, Modernisms, The Golden Age of illustration.”
Mekler describes himself as being a “bit obsessed with human nature, the way we act, the way we relate to those around us, and how we rationalize things that are part of our animal ascendance.” To illustrate these broad, abstract subjects, he says, “I search for little situations that speak of those larger themes and try to find interesting (and generally ridiculous) metaphors to help me talk about them. I tend to avoid extreme solemnity in art in favor of humorous, ironic ideas.”The metaphors Mekler uses in his paintings are inspired by a wide range of sources, including close observation of the world around him, history and science. “In my case, making art is some kind of alchemy,” Mekler explains, “an end result of the information I’m constantly eating up: Science, Philosophy, literature, visual arts, etc.” This range of sources allows Mekler to create rich metaphors. One of his paintings, “Gravitational Fields,” features a woman holding an apple, surrounded by astrological symbols and charts seemingly pulled from a physics book. The painting is so complex because Mekler spends a long time reworking his ideas. “Concepts don’t come usually in one sketch,” he explains. “There is a development over time, months and even years. I revisit the sketches all the time, maybe seeing and triggering things I didn’t think of in the time I did them. So I redraw and add things and make it work in other ways until I’m completely happy with the idea.”
Many of his paintings include images drawn from religion, referencing the Bible as well as other forms of spirituality, like astrology. While not religious himself, Mekler is interested in the cultural side of religion and spirituality, which he sees as being deeply tied to human nature. He says, “Religion is there to try to answer some of the questions of our nature that seem to be unanswerable by any other means.”
Although his imagery has evolved Mekler doesn’t see his central themes changing. He recently moved from a series depicting “invented machines, robots … that ironically represented aspects of culture,” to images that focus on physics, science, and space. But even as the imagery in Mekler’s paintings evolves, his central themes continue to be “human nature and culture,” he says, “I guess that interest is never going away completely. In the future I’ll probably change the theme of the metaphors again but I’ll still be haunted by the same obsessions.”
For Mekler, “a piece is successful when it somehow makes a place for itself in the mind of the viewer and accompanies him forever.” More than being able to make a living off his art, Mekler values his audience’s lasting emotional reaction to his work. Humor, he says, is an important part of creating affective paintings – his ironic imagery “makes the viewer smile but leaves a serious afterthought.” It also reflects Mekler’s outlook on life – he says he doesn’t take himself too seriously – and helps him gauge the success of his paintings: “Humor can’t be faked, it’s a natural response that something can cause,” he says. “So seeing a smile or alaugh produced by a piece can be better than a worded comment. You know the communication was successful, a connection was achieved.”