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Daniel Berman: The Cathodic Axolotl

Being a drawing professor in Mexico, I discovered with surprise that engraving there was a vivid and combative language. A storyteller of events, an instrument for political satire and social chronicles of a convulsed country. The central-south of Mexico, with Oaxaca and Veracruz at the forefront, is a creative hotbed that gathers and updates this graphic tradition. A region structured by a good number of small-sized but intensely active engraving workshops. In these, certain young people particularly eager for creative stimuli receive invaluable training by becoming printers and/or "assistants" in the workshops of the masters. From them, they absorb, in an eminently oral (and I would add experiential) way, the secrets of a graphic language as complex as engraving. They are young people who make workshops a second home, forming collectives, culturally stirring the places they live in, forming clans of artists, and, above all, surrounding themselves with images. Their imagophilia leads them to carve on wood, scratch plates with sharp points, ink, and stamp. In these modern guilds, there's a place for beers and jokes, but above all, they are brotherhoods of young people who assimilate this legacy almost osmotically. But their activity is not limited to the workshop nor does it exclusively look back. When they stop printing, they hit the streets to engulf countless stimuli from high culture (exhibitions, literature) and popular culture (cartoons, lettering, crafts, graffiti, zines) and then regurgitate them through carving tools.

Daniel Berman (Xalapa, 1982) is undoubtedly a spearhead of this generation of creators who rise on the shoulders of giants (artists like Posada, Manila, Toledo, Cuevas, and Acebes Navarro) to configure a visual language that is rabidly current and with a freshness that is hardly found in contemporary artistic epicenters. His production is not only torrential and overflowing but also mutable. He has made fabric and glass dolls. He has painted on women's legs and on his own body. He has illustrated griddles and intervened in public and private walls. He has created rabidly contemporary piñatas and gifs brimming with his unique humor. As if he were a horned chameleon, he changes supports and scales to explore the possibilities of each technique, thus renewing and expanding his language. But in this display of possibilities, there is undoubtedly a common thread that runs through his production and threads this inexhaustible formal exploration. And this is a two-dimensional thread: the line of drawing and, more specifically, of graphics. Squeezing, for example, the possibilities of the series and often subverting traditional engraving procedures to shed light on new plastic possibilities.

Iconographically, we find a true fixation on anthropomorphic figures that are more than strictly human, serving as a receptacle to express the entire range of emotions of the modern subject. The cast of characters represented is varied, but there are certain beings (women propelling bicycles, ladies with unsettling hard hair, axolotl-men straight out of a vintage sci-fi movie) that remain with him, accompanying him through time and adapting to different supports and scales. At times, he appropriates popular cartoons like Mickey and tweaks them until they are almost unrecognizable, turning them into something deeper and more personal. But also surprisingly atavistic, primitive. As if Beavis and Butthead had infiltrated a pre-Hispanic codex.

If the faces he describes often make grimaces close to paroxysm, these vaguely human bodies he draws tend towards the filiform. This anatomical peculiarity makes them malleable, capable of contorting and fragmenting to adopt implausible postures. However, these characters do not seem to suffer from this literally twisted condition; instead, they seem to celebrate it. As if Berman showed us to what extent these beings can only show their joyful vitality through contortion. In any case, it is paradoxical how these subverted, deformed, pierced, or coupled bodies never seem threatening. Rather, they invite cuddling and gratitude for their courage in showing themselves authentic and vulnerable. Despite this fixation on the corporeal, which often materializes in ultra-baroque compositions, in his latest works, there is a tendency towards dissolution. To such a level of fragmentation and blurring that his paintings flirt more openly with abstraction.

Defining his style is difficult given the multitude of inputs interwoven in his discourse. However, I would like to emphasize how, while it is easy to recognize his affiliation with graffiti artists and people connected to self-publishing, he goes beyond the vacuous stigmas that often populate the work of these collectives. He transcends predictable, repetitive, and standardized results to stand out with a tropical expressionism where his confessional quality is a fundamental bastion. In other words, like the alter egos he draws, he has the courage to show his authentic identity. To share his singular mental evolution, that personal and intransferable psychic outpour that takes shape


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