Stems Gallery is pleased to announce The Traveler, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by the Los Angeles–based artist Alejandro Cardenas. While Cardenas has presented his work in several recent solo shows, this presentation marks the first time he is exhibiting sculpture, a medium he began incorporating into his practice earlier this year.
In his vivid and wildly surreal compositions, Cardenas charts a unique approach to figuration, based in his graphic renderings of otherworldly human-like subjects. Their elongated and abstracted silhouettes, enveloped in variegated patterns of rippling lines, convey emotion through bodily gesture, allowing for a remarkable variety of expression through a measured economy of form—their lightweight frames signaling trepidation, intensity, and introspection through a delicately extended hand or a gently curved spine. Their uncanny physiques offer a perplexing contrast to the lushly painted domestic and outdoor settings they inhabit, underscoring the inexplicable placelessness of Cardenas’s imagined scenes.
Engaging with an array of influences from both high art and popular culture, Cardenas pays homage to the eminent Belgian illustrator Hergé in the new works produced for this exhibition. The lauded creator of The Adventures of Tintin, Hergé is celebrated for his harmoniously cohesive compositions, characterized by uniformly thin outlines, flat panes of color, and pictorial equilibrium. In the paintings on view here, Cardenas replicates specific panels from Hergé’s comics, excerpting them from their original storylines, extracting precise visual cues, and translating source imagery into his own unique aesthetic. Figures pause, hesitatingly, in front of ornately carved doors or against a marble column, their naturalistic surroundings embellished with trompe l’oeil textures and subtle shading. Meanwhile, Cardenas’s lustrous lacquered aluminum sculptures, which function as drawings in three dimensions, embrace Hergé’s signature ligne claire style, reducing the supple shapes of animals and insects to their basic contours.
The title of the exhibition, The Traveler, alludes simultaneously to Hergé’s most beloved character, the globe-trotting young reporter Tintin, and paradoxically to the illustrator himself, who famously, and controversially, depicted foreign countries without visiting them. Confined to Belgium due to wartime conflict, Hergé was keenly attuned to the capacity of the imagination to conjure the unfamiliar and the unparalleled ability of art to transfer the viewer to the unknown. Cardenas’s captivating paintings and sculptures, hovering between our world and an alternate reality, likewise revel in art’s potential to capture what cannot be grasped otherwise. At a moment of restricted travel, where distant locales remain unreachable, Cardenas seizes upon the inimitable power of painting to transport us to what is beyond our immediate surroundings.
Alejandro Cardenas (b. 1977, Santiago, Chile) completed his BFA at the Cooper Union School of Art in 2000. He has exhibited his work in group and solo shows at Anat Ebgi (2019 and 2020), Harper’s Books (2019 and 2020), Matthew Brown Gallery (2019), James Fuentes (2008 and 2010), Daniel Reich Gallery (2005), Rivington Arms (2003), the Hammer Museum (2003), and Marc Foxx (2002). Before becoming a full-time studio painter, Cardenas had a successful career as a multimedia artist, working in illustration, graphic design, and videography. For over a decade, he served as the lead textile designer and art director for the influential fashion label Proenza Schouler. He was also a founding member of Lansing-Dreiden, a New York–based transdisciplinary art collective that produced musical albums, a literary journal, and artworks. Reviews of his art and design projects have appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, and Another Magazine. Cardenas currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
Text by Olivia Casa