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Interpreting Oscar Abreu

From the moment Oscar Abreu introduced his “psycho-expressionism” in the Dominican Republic in the late 90’s, it was met with acclaim. His work was widely said to be “sound, abstract with a recent and authentic repertoire of images, engendered by instinct and energy.” Among the visual producers of his time and his country, he was an outsider. His outsider status allowed him to be one of the first painters in the Dominican Republic to experiment with new ways of seeing and with fresh ideas about the character of the materials and functions of art. His work spoke to the use of psychology in art by representing, simultaneously, the subjective and objective components of the the subject proper.

Abreu’s "psycho-expressionism,” the term he coined in Chicago in 1994 to describe the unique theoretical framework underpinning his body of work, is not concerned with an exclusive attention to aesthetics. as has been the tradition in the Dominican Republic, nor is it exclusively tailored to the representational, a characteristic of the traditional arts. His work is obsessively dedicated to questions concerning human nature. Abreu’s work centers on the issues of psychological causality. His work asks, “What events, experiences and memories caused you to be the person you are today?” His answers are as varied as his subject due to the subject's unique psychological infrastructure, brain chemistry, experiences and events that helped to shape the development of a their current psychology.

To answer these questions of psychology, Abreu has created an artistic visual language to describe, decode and understand his subjects. This language is a culmination of distinct symbols that are continually represented in his works, and are expressed through brush strokes, vivid colors, scratches and collages that represent the different elements that Abreu believes makeup the human psyche.

Each painting, whether it contains one or more subjects or is abstract, represents the psychological blueprint of a single individual. The painting is constructed with layers of colors, painted one on top of the other, representing the different experiences or layers of personality, that are still present, although concealed. Abreu’s process is then to uncover and expose the past, the stains or trauma on the subconscious, by physically scratching through the paint, exposing the layers of color. In particular, the idea of stains/trauma that might no longer be visible, but even when covered up are in fact still present and still impacting an individual, either consciously or subconsciously.

A common visual symbol that is woven through Abreu’s work is that of a series of squares that vary in size and color. Each of these squares represents a specific memory, the size of the square corresponding to how impactful the memory or event was and how it is imprinted on the psyche. The squares represent routine and history; two components of the mind that in most cases are not consciously entertained, but that play an integral part in the formation of our personalities.

Although Abreu’s “psycho-expressionism” theoretical framework is central to understanding his work, let us not conclude that Abreu is only a theorist. His work is also intensely subjective, drawn from his personal experiences. Experiences marked by pain, anguish, disbelief and above all an underlying optimistic hope for happiness. Like all artists, he wants the audience to feel his work and to draw its own conclusions. He looks to create art that inspires, intrigues and awakens.

Oscar Abreu was born March 6, 1978 in the Dominican Republic, where as a young child he developed a natural inclination for painting. Abreu moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1994, where he soon enrolled as an art student at the Marwen Foundation and simultaneously studied at a specialized program for gifted high school students at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Oscar Abreu’s works have been exhibited in numerous solo shows in the Chicago, New York, Miami, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

                                                                                                 Adrian Cabreja

Abreu proposes to us a cosmic perception of the iconography of character that is almost petroglyphic. However, when we explore the psychology of his paintings, at once gestural and silent because of the weight and densities of the line, on occasion spatulated, one finds out that the essence of his art is no more than a dramatic and painful exposition of his interior self as an existential autobiography; and also the pain, the blows, the hunger, the injuries, and arcane silence that mankind has witnessed.
                                                                                                 Abil Peralta Agüero

"Huellas: La Invencion de Lo Visible," Museo del Hombre Dominicano, November 2004

Undoubtedly, the narrative axis of the pictorial creation of Oscar Abreu translates the unique individual vision of the painter and tells us of the uses of an esthetic-sensibility that covers the visual form, assuring that the edges and centers of a personified work are able to make invisible emotions the narrative of the visible things.
                                                                                                        Odalís G. Pérez

"Huellas: La Invencion de Lo Visible," Museo del Hombre Dominicano, November 2004

In that case, the specific characteristics of the subject inside the art depart from supposed symbolism that makes possible the reflection and the criticism of all as much as it worries him or interests him as an artist in the function of humanity and of his feelings or stimuli. Because of that, the intentions of the work of Oscar Abréu are the entrails of a mythological metamorphosis and a rich and deliberate confrontation between himself and reality.
                                                                                                        Cándido Gerón

Análisis, March 2001, Dominican Republic.

Perhaps certain experiences during the infancy brought the artist to a state of heightened consciousness and branded his works, in the canvas, with impressive messages of the events of a stormy and traumatic past. These mixed visualizations of an apparent fantasy can be reality or dreams. In certain cases when this has entered into the studies of the occult, esoteric, metaphysical, or of parapsychology the interpretive force of the works of Oscar Abreu, in many cases amuses us.
                                                                                         Fernando Morbán Laucer

TV Cable, April 2001, Dominican Republic.

Oscar Abreu, "the absent Dominican" that lives in Chicago, frequently returns to Santo Domingo where he particularly likes to paint. Precocious maturity and a clear professional determination since his adolescence, explains an intense and dense productivity, with serious and energetic works, effusive and not exempt of greatness. Often, fullness is allied to the austerity in a simple design that sets off the physical character of the material. Oscar Abreu does not know the concept of beautification and the concession to the ornamental thing. He does not need them to cause impact and follows his own impulses.
                                                                                             Marianne de Tolentino

Cariforum, November 2004