Francisco Souto has lived in Lincoln for a decade. With “Poetics of recognition,” now on view at Kiechel Fine Art, the Great Plains has emerged in his work in a big way.
The Mexican and Italian cityscapes, mountains and Spanish seascapes of the past are replaced by barns and farms, power lines and pastures, cows and cars, as Souto incorporates his adopted home region into his drawings for the first time.
“This is the first and the last,” Souto said. “The prairies were coming into my work. This show’s about that recognition.”
The prairies weren’t obvious in Souto’s previous work, some examples of which are also on view at Kiechel.
But his long, vertical drawings with cityscapes and sea views tucked near the bottom reflected, in a sense, the big skies of the Plains with their low horizons and large, open space above.
With the drawings of “Poetics of recognition,” the sky is back. But Souto has left the skies empty, concentrating on what can be found on the horizon line and below.
In pieces such as “Horizontal Prairie #1,” a 16- by 55-inch graphite on paper drawing, that horizon contains a church and some cars, a farmstead with barns and outbuildings, a stand of trees, faint crop rows in the foreground and tiny electric lines fading into the distance.
Meticulously drawn with the tiniest of pencils, Souto’s drawings are filled with astounding details. In “Politics of Recognition #5,” for example, a herd of cattle grazes in a large pasture. None of the cows are more than a quarter-inch long or high. All have distinguishable features, e.g. four legs.
“I would spend three to four hours on that cow,” Souto said when we previewed the show last week. “I want it to look real, to look right.”
That detail is so precise there are tiny lines to create shadows on the blades of giant, power-generating windmills in a couple of images and to show that a car’s headlights are on in another.
The images are based on photos that Souto took on his iPhone while driving between Lincoln and Wichita, Kan., where the University of Nebraska-Lincoln art professor was an artist-in-residence. To say they resonate with authenticity is an understatement.
The drawings, however, aren’t pure landscapes. To each, Souto has added a strip or strips of bright-colored acrylic paint. Those strips simultaneously eliminate any “preciousness,” emphasize the drawing as a drawing and make the image visually pop.
The subject matter alone ensures local interest in “Poetics of recognition.” But what sets Souto’s work apart -- and has received national notice --- can be found in a series of works that share “Poetics.”
To make those pieces, which are mounted on panel, Souto draws on paper with graphite, then covers that drawing with varnish, buffs the varnish with steel and draws another layer. The result is a luminous image that has perceptual depth that’s not possible with straight drawing, captured in a mesmerizing smoothness.
Those pieces contain the same detail as the drawings on paper. “Poetics #6," for example, contains a white car with visible wheel covers, windows and other details that is about 1/16th of an inch long. And they share the colored strips, which jump out even more under the varnish than they do on paper.
The detail and craftsmanship of Souto’s drawings demand close viewing. Getting inches away from the drawings is really the only way to pick out the little cars and the siding on a barn.
But they connect just as strongly from a distance, instantly recognizable as views of the Plains and with the pop of color, as striking, masterfully crafted art objects.
Souto’s show is the first large one-person exhibition at Kiechel since the gallery opened downtown in December. It is very effectively hung on the gallery’s long parallel walls. It is a very good space in which to see a show.