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An Excess of Quiet:
Selected Sketches by Gustavo Ojeda,
1979–1989

Edited by Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué and Erich Kessel Jr
Introduction by Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué

Cuban American painter Gustavo Ojeda (1958–89) is best known for lush and meditative urban nightscapes, which brought him recognition in the 1980s downtown New York art scene. He exhibited alongside artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and David Wojnarowicz before dying from AIDS-related complications in 1989, just two weeks shy of his thirty-first birthday. Ojeda’s paintings were notably unpopulated, but in his private sketchbooks, he fixated on the people of New York, filling thousands of pages with disembodied faces and the bodies of sleeping people riding public transportation and moving within urban space.

An Excess of Quiet: Selected Sketches by Gustavo Ojeda, 1979–1989 presents a selection of over 200 sketches that demonstrate the artist’s rigorous commitment to his craft. In the context of loss, both archival and intimate, that accompanied the height of the AIDS crisis, this book is meant to serve as a recuperative introduction to Ojeda’s oeuvre through material that has never before been shared publicly. In the margins of his sketchbooks, Ojeda often wrote that he felt anxious about his productivity, shaming himself for not being able to paint more before his death. This book answers Ojeda’s worries with the recovery of what was always right in front of him, his most obsessive and tender practice.

 

Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué is a poet and scholar based in Chicago, IL. His publications include Jazzercise is a Language (The Operating System, 2018) and Losing Miami (The Accomplices, 2019). His fourth book of poetry, Madness, is forthcoming from Nightboat Books. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of Chicago, where he conducts research in sexuality studies.

Erich Kessel Jr is a writer based in New York interested in the relationships between antiblackness, art, and media. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Departments of History of Art and African American Studies at Yale University.

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[Gustavo] Ojeda’s drawings perform a high-wire act, crossing and recrossing from abstraction into figuration and back again with such alacrity, finesse, and resolve that it takes a while to realize how quickly they were done—so fast that often pen or pencil barely broke line or left the surface. As they materialize and dematerialize before your eyes, they model not only a Matisse-like economy of means, but an insistent tension between the particular and the transcendent, same and different, here and there, body and spirit. Laying claim to the gulf between these ostensible polarities, Ojeda’s work reminds us that it is only through embodiment, through the stolid, substantive heft of things in the world that we can flee our bodies, transcend the material world, and find reverie in trance-like dreams.

— Jonathan D. Katz, associate professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania

In these sketches of New York City in the 1980s, painter Gustavo Ojeda’s separation of spaces from bodies endlessly re-establishes their relation in quiet but fascinating interplays of tightness and relaxation, pressure and release. One suddenly becomes aware of the tension in the tine of a fork, or in the arc of a streetlamp. Meanwhile, the faces of sleepers in transit lose their stiffness and slacken. Humans are noticeably isolated in the world of these images, rarely appearing together. Yet Ojeda’s vibrant line makes us aware of what binds them—a circulation not visible but whose very invisibility is made seen.

—Sianne Ngai, author of Ugly Feelings

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