When God hates you, what do you do?
3+1 Arte Contemporânea hosted Juan Tessi’s first exhibition in Portugal in 2019. With Dios me odia, the gallery is hosting yet another solo exhibition by the artist, bringing together his more-than-human figures with quasi-abstract canvases, the outcome of a more explicit research into the process of painting. I use the expression “more explicit” because, in a certain way, there is always a changing practice at play, an artistic endeavour that wants to keep its methods and results open, even in the drawings he creates by surgically manipulating various contours on the linen – and which, due to their pictoriality, eventually encourage readings that are also less formal.
The range of interpretations of his body of work is not surprising. Tessi has, on the one hand, been mentioned among some leading figures in contemporary Argentinian visual arts alongside two other “Juans”: Del Prete, for his groundbreaking and anthropophagic capacity to devour different materials, resources and styles, or Becú, for the mistrust and freedom with which he manoeuvres certain pictorial procedures and genres. More so than in Manglar, his debut exhibition in Lisbon, this focus on painting as an epidermis, a self-determined territory, a place for experimentation and fantasies without constraints – or even without divine gaze or approval – can be seen in Dios me odia. For example, this is the case with Duelo de banjos or El sembrador, both works from this year, in which the artist’s characteristic open-ended abstractions still shine through.
To this author – who is confessedly less interested in grammar than in the potential meanings of his compositions -, the most curious and challenging developments in Tessi’s work, nevertheless, are those that come from his figurative choices, which point to key issues of our times through the specific lens of a veteran artist from the Global South, Latin American, with Peruvian roots, traditions and mythologies. (These may well be restrictive categories, were it not for Juan Tessi’s engagement with a desiring, celebratory iconography, capable of reinventing itself at will).
Cosmological concepts fit into his vibrant ecology of colours and moods – what is the origin of the world? How were the mountains formed? – and ontological – what is human essence? Is there something that truly separates us from other kingdoms (animal, vegetable, mineral, spiritual)? The indigenous sacrality of the Mesoamerican peoples – fluid and diverse deities, with bodies without front or back, without anatomy or geography, and which deform and conform to the contours of the world – and a silent queer eroticism, opening up space for new pleasure landscapes, within a context of vanishing borders and limits. Ultimately, how much cannot fit into a body that has been stripped of its organs, orders and doctrines?
Intriguingly, Javier Villa, senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires, introduced Tessi as “a painter who is not waging a historical struggle, but who is producing without censure because he recognises all too well that his gods are on his side.” The curator was speaking of the unsuspectedness with which only an artist “from a colonised country or region” could “mix pre-Columbian art, his own stories and Eastern exoticism” . Well then: it hardly matters if the monotheistic God, a possible symbol of a homogenising and patriarchal morality, hates or ignores you. You can renounce it. You can ignore it back. There are plenty of other gods to discover, to draw, to sculpt and to dance with. There is nothing beyond the highest judgement that cannot be done or imagined. And what should we do with this excessive freedom? To begin, perhaps, with Juan Tessi’s maps.
Dios me odia is on show at 3+1 Arte Contemporânea in Lisbon until November 11.
 Text available in https://terremoto.mx/en/online/pintura-nueva-especie/.