Juan Perdiguero

When Through 10/14

Where Three Walls, 119 N. Peoria #2A

Info 312-432-3972

Dogs seem to leap through space at Three Walls. The greyhounds in Juan Perdiguero’s eight large drawings on photo paper combine the cuteness of pets and the sleekness of racers with hints of aggression. Unlike conceptually driven artists, for whom the picture frames might be more important than the rendering, he communicates through exquisite control of his medium, etching ink. Groups of tiny lines convey fur, but a bit more chaotically than in an old master because Perdiguero lays down ink first, then removes it with gloved hand and paper towel. The ink brightens to show features or seems to congeal in the darkest areas, taking on a dynamic life of its own. He develops the photo paper before drawing on it, and the resulting stains sometimes add movement to the image. Each title begins Perro Negro (“black dog”) and is followed by a word, such as sombra (“amber”) or marfil (“ivory”), to describe the quality of the ink.

A Spanish native, Perdiguero says that Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son at Madrid’s Prado museum is “like an icon for me.” When he first saw it at age three, he was stunned. “I felt really scared by the brutality of it,” he says. “I was also fascinated by how such a scene could be rendered in such a beautiful, uplifting way. What really blew me away is that just using pigment and varnish and all those strokes, you could create an image that could completely shatter your soul and stick into your heart for the rest of your life.” Now dividing his time between Spain and Oswego, New York, where he teaches, Perdiguero goes to see this work every time he returns.

At 17 Perdiguero enrolled in Madrid’s most prestigious art school, but he did poorly at first. “I liked the traditional curriculum because I wanted to learn to draw accurately and beautifully,” he says. “But I was a very slow learner, and I had very bad teachers.” He added evening classes at a private art academy and for nearly five years painted and drew from 8 AM until 9:30 PM five days a week. He ended up graduating with honors, but in his second year, still struggling, “I went back to the Prado and suddenly started seeing how the old masters were able to solve the problem of filling bodies with life and capturing the soul. But I could not translate that into my own paintings for many months.” Finally, while rendering a model’s upper torso, “I don’t know what happened, but the color came to life, the brushwork started to decipher the body the way I wanted, and the body started to live within the surface of the painting.” In 1990, at 25, Perdiguero went to SUNY Buffalo for graduate study, then spent more than a decade in New York City.

In the 70s, Madrid was subject to terrorist attacks from the Basque separatist group ETA; a bombing killed three people at a bank around the corner from his home. Perdiguero says that as a child he could see “enlightenment in people but also their brutality.” Also, he says, “My father, who supported me and loved me and who I loved very much, could become a brutal animal.” After portraying the human figure for years, Perdiguero began rendering animals, including dogs: “They display the duality of the beast and the humane. They’re very close to us and seem to be part of our civilized life but still have all these instinctual traits.” Working at a New York City animal shelter, he became fascinated by greyhounds–“the gracefulness of the animal, the movement, the anatomy, the shape.” Perro Negro Marfil is loosely based on a photo of a dog running, its teeth bared, though it’s unclear whether in hostility or the excitement of flight. All the drawings here are based on one or more photos, most downloaded from greyhound lovers’ Web sites, including the original for Perro Negro Sombra, which shows a dog whose nearly vertical perky ears echo its bared lower canines. Perdiguero says he’s noticed that the poses dog lovers seem to think are funny or cute often “transmit an energy different from what they imagine.”