Francisco Luna grew up around a big library that his grandmother had in her living room, back in his natal La Plata, Argentina. The library covered a whole wall from the floor to the ceiling and it was filled up with tons of books, old and new, written in Spanish, German, Italian and English.
\As a kid, he would spend time imagining meanings for that maze of incomprehensible objects engraved with symbols and signs. His grandmother taught him that they were books, and that in order to become a wise man, he would have to read each one of them one day. Mission seemed impossible then. From that point on, that vision of an enigmatic universe in front of him yet to be known, hasn’t abandoned him.
As a young man, Francisco Luna went to study painting at the National School of Fine Arts in his hometown before moving to Buenos Aires, where he established and consolidated his artistic career. He arrived in Miami in 2000 for having his first US solo show at the Freites-Revilla Gallery in Coral Gables. In the exhibitions that followed, his paintings represented large interior views of art galleries and museums with artworks on the walls and persons wondering around. The walking figures were blurry and the paintings in those spaces were huge.
“Everything is an optical illusion”, he commented in regards of those exhibitions, “I was trying to establish a parallel between the actual viewer and the one portrayed. In my head, they were both looking at my paintings”. This relationship between the observer and the observed, together with the dialogue that sets in, became a constant in Luna’s works. He examines communication in art by using the most unorthodox mediums and methods. By representing gallery spaces and viewers in his paintings, he was creating a sort of visual echo of the gallery situation. The actual viewers were confronted with a distorted interpretation of their physical standpoint that expanded into the paintings, a mirror effect that challenged the distinctions existing between reality and representation. It was a silent dialogue but the message was obvious. Things are not necessarily the way they appear.
With this in mind, Francisco Luna, moved on. “I’m always looking for new elements of communication” he says, and gradually began to incorporate new materials into his works. In his series titled “No Duermas” (Stay Awake), several metal letters and numbers taken from old cars were glued against metal sheets and black canvases. In these works, Luna shifted from the silence of the big, almost empty spaces of his early paintings to concrete written language, searching for a more efficient dialogue with the viewer. But instead of making himself clear, he proposed a kind of word mess, an altered stage of messaging, where words of different sizes and shapes appear written in different languages, telling the viewer nothing and everything. Despite his many influences from Opt and Conceptual Art, Francisco Luna doesn’t fall for one or the other, but puts the two together with a clear intention of exposing the fragility of meaning in contemporary art.
Looking back at his early works, it occurred to me that “enigmatic” is probably the right word for describing Luna’s art. His works are not easy to read and it seems that the artist makes a big effort to conceal their meaning. But rather than frustrating communication with such actions, the chaotic and almost stressful typographic arrangements are overtly inviting viewers to join his quest for breaking the codes within the messages. His works express a suggestive apprehension of meaning, alluding to many traditional and contemporary issues of existential transcendence. For Francisco Luna, saying less, is sometimes a way of saying more, or at least, of saying best.
In one of his most recent paintings, an excessive amount of old books pile on top of each other, showing only their spines where their titles and authors read. But far from authors and titles, words and letters appear again more as coded language than as a complete understandable message. They make reference to different points in art history, famous artist and authors, or to more mundane situations like the street where he currently lives on. For centuries, books were considered the keepers of knowledge. Today, new technologies have displaced that role to computer hard drives, and a big part of the information that we get to see is disposable.
Luna’s books appear in front of us as reminders, as vestiges of a culture of accumulation. His books are closed, frozen in time. Their titles on the spines are no longer telling us what the book is about but showing only cut phrases, invented names and unclear ideas. The artist acknowledges the existence of that immense realm of information that is impossible to attain as a whole, no matter which means are used. For him, new communication strategies are necessary for assimilating culture and intellectually surviving within an entropic society.
Francisco began to exhibit his creations at age 13. He is now 48 and his work is represented internationally. His works are sold by renown art galleries, showed in international art fairs and hanged on the walls of private collections, homes and offices. “I’m interested in a more universal conception of art” Luna says, “although we confront cultural barriers everyday”. In a time when western culture is watching its icons fall one by one, and eastern culture is the enemy, a universal conception of existence suits very well someone concerned about global cultural issues.
Francisco Luna has lived in Miami since 2000 and shows strong convictions about his relatively new place of residence. He would rather avoid labels or stereotypes but admits that being in Miami has played an important role in his career by providing him with access to a larger and awesomely multicultural audience. “I feel comfortable producing here” he says, and we all know how it goes, if you can’t get what you want, then take what you need. For artists like Francisco Luna, Miami could be that welcoming place where belonging, actually means being from somewhere else, and still you would be understood.