Sebastian CIFUENTES

From 18 February to 30 March 2013, the BE-ESPACE Gallery showcases Colombian artist Sebastian Cifuentes for the first time. His series entitled TREES features some twenty sculpture-paintings exploring forests of colour. Sinuous shapes and tangled branches form a dense jungle, while open paths and halos of light transform them into woodland clearings. Their mystery seems to beckon us.

Sebastian Cifuentes, like his painting, alternates between Western and indigenous culture. He has made this duality into a source of strength: his works seem to embody both feminine aspects (the Earth-mother Pachamama) and masculine aspects (referring to great mythological figures such as Hercules and the Centaur). In the TREES series, he uses painterly techniques to recount what he felt when he discovered the tropical forest. He retraces his path towards the colours of the forest in a way that is neither entirely narrative nor entirely figurative. In his forest - be it natural, urban or psychological, it is first and foremost mystery and the unknown that reign supreme. We find ourselves hesitating between fear and the desire to enter the worlds he evokes.

Cifuentes' forests – which he also calls jungles - are inhabited by trees of life, labyrinthine paths, and enigmas to unravel. At first sight, we can't make anything out. But the eye gradually becomes accustomed to the image and allows itself to be led between the tangled trees, working its way inwards via successive layers. By creating an inner flame or an oasis-like clearing, the artist helps us to find our way, simultaneously hinting at a metaphor of the environment or a parable of the unconscious.

The colours are linked to the seasons - sometimes all four in the same painting. In the depths of the picture we have the midnight blue and intense purple of winter. As we get closer, the russet autumnal palette takes over from living green. The foreground glows with light: incandescent yellows under the summer sun. Cifuentes has created a veritable forest of colour, revisiting pop art and Jackson Pollock's "dripped" paintings.

In purely technical terms, the works consist of metal sheets bolted together. Acrylic paints, varnishes and resins create intense effects of light and texture. The organic shapes are cut out using a jigsaw and an electric grinding tool. The outlines of the trees stand out in relief, and there is a sense of great depth. They open up like a stage curtain, revealing the living heart of the forest.

Whether hung on the wall or set on the floor, these sculpture-paintings have great spatial presence. Each has a name that is rarely innocent: Encounters, Community, Perspectives, Generation, etc. We're always on the edge of the human world, between the individual and the group, between the ancestral and the yet-to-come. Rooted in both his own origins and the natural world, Cifuentes draws his inspiration from a constantly regenerated source: "we make roots all the time, we build new ones, and they feed on things". His artistic expression belies a refreshing sense of eco-awareness.

The TREES series also includes paintings on canvas. Here, Cifuentes focuses his attention on the detail of a branch, the beauty of a "small thing". He combines acrylic paints and varnishes, using a palette knife to produce textural effects. Seeking to create a sense of vibrancy, he juxtaposes complementary colours. Whether he uses pure or mixed hues, his technique always creates a strong sense of chromatic dialogue.

Sebastian Cifuentes was born in 1977 in Bogota (Colombia). He studied art at Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and became interested in sculpture long before painting. He has an undeniable interest in the physicality of materials: he plays with them, shapes them, and makes them his own. Natural or artificial - clay, resin, silicone - he loves both their malleability and their resistance, using them to refine and reinforce his artistic message. Always on the lookout for unusual materials, he even uses those he finds repulsive: although a vegetarian, he even went as far as to create lipo-sculptures using animal fat. In 1999, he was awarded the Philips Prize, and began exhibiting in Colombia in 2000. His work soon crossed borders, travelling to the United States and Europe, including France. He took part in many international art fairs, for example at the Grand Palais in Paris, the city that has been his home since 2009.

For Cifuentes, there is always a meaning and a sense of commitment. His message when faced with a particular situation, an example of injustice, or an economic context is political - or simply that of a citizen. When he uses tar as paint, it echoes the forced exile of the Colombian people as they fled from violent repression. The sculpture "I love you" made of multicoloured cubes is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. The world and its inhabitants are fragmented, and the challenge for the artist is to bring them back together in a precarious equilibrium whose name is humanity.