Perrotin New York is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Mexican artist Gabriel de la Mora, opening on November 3 and on view through December 23, 2021. De la Mora’s practice focuses on the construction of seemingly minimal yet extremely complex surfaces that are underlined by intense mathematical precision. As both a collector of objects and fascinated by science, he began to make geometric compositions with elements that contain genetic material — human hair, feathers, egg- shells, or most recently, butterfly wings. For this new body of work, titled “Lepidoptera,” De la Mora mines the rich cultural symbolism of the butterfly, sourcing the material from butterfly conservation farms in Peru, Indonesia and Madagascar.
The following text was written by writer and curator Gabriela Rangel to accompany the exhibition
Butterflies are known for their delicacy and discreet charm, qualities enhanced through a capacity to keep unnoticed: It is astounding how little an ordinary person notices butterflies.
Despite their colorful wings, which fast and concise movements perhaps would only allow us to get a glimpse on the elaborate patterns, designs, and chromatic combinations that some species display. Like other organisms, butterflies are prone to mimicry. They can resemble a flower, a tree or look like fallen leaves in the northern autumn or in the tropical rain forest. Their unassumed beauty and familiarity can transform a solitary spot in a forest into a site for spiritual introspection and delight. It is not accidental that the angel of death was represented by the Gnostics as a winged foot stepping on a butterfly. Psyche, the Greek goddess represented through butterfly wings, prompted psychoanalysis’ interpretation of lepidoptera as symbols of resurgence. Butterflies also dwell on Mesoamerican iconography, in particular the Mexica of Tenochtitlan, which considered them as the fleeting souls of deceased warriors.
The butterfly is a symbol of fire, of the soul and represents movement. It was believed that the souls of the dead were transformed into butterflies. These insects were a source of inspiration in pre-Hispanic poetry, mainly written in Nahuatl. Their transformation process, metamorphosis, was something that also attracted attention: from egg to caterpillar and from cocoon to butterfly, it is as if it were born and died twice.
Beyond the realms of natural sciences and entomology, lengthy literature on lepidoptera proves their aesthetic allure and symbolic potency as the paradoxical insects with wings that they are. From opera to social sculpture, butterflies inspired metaphoric interpretations that transcend the binary model of gender and sexuality as well as the polarities of life and death. Martin Johnson Heade represented a Blue Morpho type in perhaps one of the most arresting paintings ever made of a living butterfly in which two of its wings, expose a singular iridescence while the other ones, slightly bent towards the left, were depicted in black as if they belong to the afterlife. The background shows a fantastic landscape that leads us to the equinoctial regions so keen to the nineteenth century art travelers influenced by Alexander von Humboldt. But as Vladimir Nabokov observed, butterflies are largely unnoticed by people. Nabokov, who suffered a severe pneumonia at a very young age, lost his “monstrous gift of numbers that had made me a child prodigy during a few months (today I cannot multiply 13 by 17 without a pencil and paper; I can add them up, though, in a trice, the teeth of the three fitting in neatly); but the butterflies survived (...)” According to the writer, a year later he “gained absolute control over the European lepidoptera as known to Hoffmann.”
Intriguingly, artist Gabriel de la Mora showed an unusual disposition to play with language at a very young age. Comparable to Nabokov’s gift of numbers and his skills to solve complicated mathematical operations, which the Russian American writer characterized rather as “a demon”, de la Mora can read straightforwardly a sentence backwards and disorganize a word to compose an instant riddle. Dyslexia prompted him to perceive words as images, fragments in magnified dimensions: “cuando no entiendes la información que tienes enfrente o que escuchas, inmediatamente se convierten en imágenes, en fragmentos, en ruido, en sonidos y en un sinfín de cosas que no tienen nada que ver con la realidad de los contenidos o las cosas (...) Veo las letras y los números de una forma diferente, me fascinan ambos y siempre he visto a las letras, los números, las palabras y las matemáticas de una forma diferente.”
De la Mora’s early works after graduating from the Pratt Institute were under the spell of language as a problem to be solved through visual forms and transitional objects. More recently, he dedicated his artistic investigation to renovate the language of modernist abstraction using bodily elements such as human hair for his Capilares non-representational drawings, and egg shelves, feathers, and butterfly wings to compose geometric, monochromatic, or hard-edge paintings.
Gabriel de la Mora’s new Lepidoptera series composed of thirty-three works made of eight different species of butterflies, seem to complete a cycle of difference in which the artist merged modernist lessons by Joseph Albers with his own propensity to isolate fragments as compositional elements for transforming images into a scribbled discourse. If the Mexican mythologies added a cultural layer to De la Mora’s formal endeavor of bringing the opalescence of butterflies to abstract painting, their unnoticed beauty appealed as a language in which color always hides the nature of the element that you see. Mimicry is their “demon” or to put it in words by Roger Caillois: “it is not the presence of the elements what is perplexing and decisive, it is their mutual organization, their reciprocal topography.”
Gabriel de la Mora cleverly reconfigures collections of found objects [...] into pristine minimal installations that uncannily give form to experiences, processes, and forces that are otherwise nearly invisible.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico
Lives and works in Mexico City, Mexico
Gabriel de la Mora, born in 1968 in Mexico City where he currently lives and works, is best known for constructing visual works from found, discarded, and obsolete objects. In an obsessive process of collecting and fragmenting materials - eggshells, shoe soles, speaker screens, feathers - the Mexican artist creates seemingly minimal and often monochrome-looking surfaces that belie great technical complexity, conceptual rigor, and embedded information.
De la Mora has exhibited at the Drawing Center, New York, and the Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico. His work is part of collections including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; El Museo del Barrio, New York; Colección Jumex, Mexico City; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Pérez Art Museum Miami.