Sperone Westwater is pleased to present Kevin Umaña’s first solo exhibition at the gallery, Wayfinding, featuring new “hybrid paintings” which merge glazed ceramics and painting on canvas, extending his previous concentration on abstract geometric paintings. They reflect his upbringing in El Salvador, the impact of the landscape and memories shared with his mother.
Specifically, Umaña has been investigating the history of the Pipil people—the Indigenous group of his family ancestry—native to the western and central areas of present-day El Salvador where the artist lived during his youth. Each work is inspired by distinct recollections of native plants, community beaches and landscapes, local cuisine and religious experiences. Umaña’s affinity for architecture, design and color theory inform the distinct patterns and repetitive structures that create a sense of rhythm in each painting. Conflicting styles are fused together—mess and order, biomorphic and geometric, thin and thick, matte and sheen. He utilizes unusual materials including gem minerals, saw dust and other organic elements. Umaña explains, “If a specific composition is paying homage to location or an experience, I want my materials to talk back to me so I often incorporate materials from those locations in order to make ink, textures or mark making tools that add definition to my paintings.”
Umaña’s way of working is very investigative, which he likens to caring for plants. The works, like nature, often fall into improvisation and unpredictability, subject to the laws of chance. Working with ceramics involves intense patience and trust in the process—cutting and modifying the clay, sketching the composition, assigning colors and tactile glazes, firing the kiln and waiting for the result. From afar, the hybrid paintings appear clean, simple and reductive, but upon closer inspection, they are raw, textural and gestural. For Umaña, abstraction is a vehicle for the exploration of nature and its tranquility—a search for an equilibrium between the capacity as a creator and the energy of the world around.
Kevin Umaña was born in 1989 and grew up in El Salvador and Los Angeles. He received a BFA from San Francisco State University in 2014 and lives and works in Kansas City. Umaña is the co-founder of The Ekru Project, an artist-run Kansas City gallery focused on contemporary, emerging and underrepresented artists. In 2017, he created a permanent installation at The United Nations Headquarters in New York City. He has completed residencies at The Center for Book Arts, New York City (2019); Plop Residency, London, England (2018); and SIM Residency, Reykjavik, Iceland (2018). His work was featured in “Pattern Recognition,” curated by Amy Lincoln at Sperone Westwater in 2022. Institutions owning his work include The United Nations Art Collection, Fidelity Mutual Funds Collection, Center for Book Arts Library and The Marin Museum of Contemporary Art.