Tony Bechara • Art Nexus, No. 62, 2006

By Claudia Calirman • November 2, 2006

At first glance, Tony Bechara’s paintings appear very chaotic. This apparent chaos however, is the result of a meticulously orchestrated labor of juxtaposition myriad colorful squares. 

From far away, these canvases appear to be randomly composed, but the closer the viewer is, the more it becomes clear that each work is a very organized, abstract, geometric grid. 

The most striking effect in Bechara’s canvases is the infusion of chance elements into the rigidity of the grid. In their disruption of the organized, geometric grid, bringing to it the Dada element of chance, Bechara’s painting are about the madness of order or the order of chaos. As a matter of fact, they recall Jean Arp’s celebrated work from 1916-17, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, in which Arp-one of the founders of the Dada movement-randomly arranged torn-and-pasted, uneven squares of paper on a gray surface. 

Each of Bechara’s painting is constructed with a predetermined number of colors. They vary from using twenty-five to one hundred different colors in each work, systematically distributed and randomly applied in small quarter-inch dabs of acrylic paint-first laid out with multiple applications of tape-covering the whole canvas in a grid of thousand of squares. The painting process is mechanical, obsessive, time-consuming, and repetitive, yet the final work is a play of light and color that creates an illusion. 

Bechara cannot predict the shapes that the works will eventually take in the viewer’s eyes. He systematically controls the dabs of paint applied to each square of the canvas, but due to the complexity of his technique-through the mixture of numerous colors in the palette-the element of chance always becomes part of the work. According to the Puerto Rican artist and writer Antonio Martorell, “Bechara’s chromatic grid is woven like a spider’s web though not one that becomes a deadly trap, but rather a trampoline of color that pulsates into new forms that appear and vanish as the eye moves throught ths canvas.” 

The works have some of the impact of George Seurat’s pointillist landscapes, though Bechara ‘s canvases reject all narrative elements. His paintings look as if they reach back in time-from Seurat’s scientific approach to color theory to Clement Greenberg’s ideas about the modernist grid. Bechara has been called the “pointillist of the digital era”, creating a painted acrylic surface that suggests a computer-generated image constructed of thousand of pixels. 

Bechara’s “Random Series” at Andre Zarre Gallery in Chelsea emphasized his continuous interest in the optical effects that resonate between the viewer’s eye and mind and play on visual perception. Born in Puerto Rico, Bechara came to Washington, D.C. in the 1970s to study law and international relations at Georgetown University. Since then, he has substituted his interest in law for his immersion in painting, but he still uses his diplomatic skills in his post as the chairman of the board of El Museo del Barrio, in New York, where he has served for the last seven years. 

Simultaneous to his exhibition at Andre Zarre Gallery, Bechara’s “Recent Paintings at Latin Collector Art Center’s newly inaugurated space on 57th Street showed an artist trying to extend his work into new avenues. In his recent paintings, the artist adopted new formats, creating works like Quadryptich 1, which joins four separate canvases,, each one made with forty different shimmering tones of green, yellow, blue, and red, respectively. He also created small paintings in box-like shapes such as 29 Colors in which the sides of the canvases are also painted; each is approximately 12 x12 inches. 

In these late paintings, the artist also moves into more fluid forms. The paintings are more organic, are more loosely organized, and employ biomorphic and organic shapes, so that the forms are less geometric and rigid than in the earlier works. This new series suggest the interplay of figuration and abstraction inside the geometric grid, and they Bechara’s work in a new invectigation that will be interesting to follow.