Autopsy of an Artwork by Californian Artist Albert Contreras


“Autopsy” comes from the Greek words “auto” and “opsis”. It literally means “to see for oneself”. An autopsy involves opening up a body to look for clues to determine the cause of death. Here, in the case of Contemporary Art, this is the method we adhere to. It means to search and analyze every single detail but to discover the secrets of why this masterpiece is so alive!

Albert Contreras, Abstract art with flesh and

bones underneath


Albert Contreras’ life was like those powerful waves from the Ocean, with ups and downs. When the waves drag very deep in the darkness they carry out the sediments up to the beach, the visible.  Albert is as powerful and energetic as a wave from the Ocean but he transforms the sediments dragged from his darkness to be as bright as a diamond. And, I don’t know how he finds the strength to do this, but literally he and his artwork shine.

I’m not used to talk about an artist himself; usually I just write about artwork; I like to embrace the art out of its context to analyze how strong it is, if so. But, here in the particular case of Albert Contreras’s work, I simply can’t. His art is actually the exact reflection of the human person he is; like a spokesperson each box with an X expresses a specific mood.

His work nowadays is to draw an X on a square cube made of wood. Each single panel is made of the same topic, an X; Xs everywhere; small or big X, chiselled into in a thick layer of resin. The cubes are in solo or stick together in a combination of 3, 4 or 9.

Each X speaks to us

First when we look at the X’s, it refers us to words with X that come to our mind: eXtra like extra-terrestrials, seXe like the hidden part of us or X like the unknown in Math which is the new field to discover. Or words related to our personal life like? eX-boy friend, eX-girl friend? or eX wife, eX-husband and so many other X meanings. For sure those Xs evocate? something? to each of us and whatever it is we can’t get rid of it.


Then when we are lucky enough to be in a room with a whole installation of Xs, our retina goes into action. It jumps from a color to another, from a set of nine black Xs to a single colorful one. Many combinations spread on the wall. The paintings – glossy or glittering- are colorful: red, pink, yellow, green, purple, blue, white and black. Some Xs are painted the same color as their background creating like an undulating monochrome landscape; some others have two tones, one for the background and one for the thick layer;  some Xs are like nestled in the thickness and some others are revealed in blue or green because of a specific chemistry. It is an explosion of colors from the brightest to the darkest.

The color enhances the gesture of the painter and the gesture enhances the color in a perfect duet.

After this bedazzlement, we naturally take a close look at the thickness around the Xs. It is for almost each X about one inch thick. In the process, Albert Contreras puts a cross of two thick layers of a neutral resin and, with a spatula he hollows out a niche into them for the X. Then, like gold from dirt, Albert says that the color magically reveals its secrets when drying. Sometimes the thickness looks like a nipple, sometimes it is related to food like a candy or whipped cream. When it is dry, a few weeks later, the thickness around stays smooth and round like the edge of a nest. This smooth aspect makes the viewer gives a touch to it like they do for sculpture.

That thickness of resin combines with the X nestled in it is the sediment I told you above. Each piece contains a specific mood. And the mood is always different. Each X has its own meaning, sometimes we guess this is joyful or dark, sometimes uncertain or confident and straight. Those cubes reveal the personality of the artist like a diary would. It works like a landscape of the artist’s feelings

No doubt, in Albert’s paintings there is chemistry.

“Show” don’t “Tell” as it is said in Literature

Yes, technically we should call his work abstract. But abstract is meant to be cold and not representative. It brings us to another language, in another world made of lines and cubes, straight and perfectly composed. Clearly this is not Albert’s work.

Then, what about Abstract expressionism? Abstract expressionism has tension and dynamic brought by the gesture combined with the combination of colors. The gesture exaggerates the feeling of the artist in a kind of narrative abstract expression. It could be Albert’s case but he clearly gives the leading role to his main topic, his X. The difference between abstract expressionism and Albert’s work could be compared in literature with the advice given to any writer: “show” don’t “tell”.

Expressionism would be the “tell” when Albert’s art would be the “show”, because Albert Contreras’ abstract art has flesh and bones underneath.

Beatrice Chassepot, Los Angeles, March 17th, 2012


Read an article by David Pagel in the LA Times titled “After 25-year delay, Albert Contreras is on trakc”