Shining in burnished gold, royal blue, crimson red and brilliant white, Gabriel Orozco’s Samurai Tree (Invariant 8) merges technical precision and organic growth with hypnotic effect. The sheer scale of the canvas captivates the viewer, drawing them into its orbit. Emanating from a single centre point, the pattern of circles and quadrants is inspired by the mathematic logic behind a game of chess. One of Orozco’s critically acclaimed Samurai Tree paintings, this work was painted in 2005, the same year he had his important solo exhibitions at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid and Palacio de Cristal, Madrid. Orozco’s Samurai Tree paintings marked his triumphant return to painting, and were first shown to critical acclaim in a solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London and the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in 2004.
At the very centre of the canvas, a circle has been divided into four quadrants. Another circle follows the first, each bisected by a single dividing line. For Orozco, ‘The circle is a very useful Instrument in terms of movement, in relation to gravity and erosion. It’s the tendency of objects when they’re in movement and are eroded by friction... I decided to do [the paintings] to see how much they could express geometry but also organicity’ (G. Orozco, quoted in B. Buchloh ‘Gabriel Orozco in conversation with Benjamin Buchloh’, The Experience of Art: 51st International Art Exhibition, exh. cat., Venice Biennale, Venice, 2005). Repeating this process systematically and varying the size of each circle he finishes his canvas by filling its quadrants and halves with a combination of his four-colour palette. The sequence of colours is based upon a knight, or Samurai in Orozco’s terms, as it moves across a chessboard: one square forward, and two to the side or two squares forward and one to the side. Orozco repeats this motion until the whole canvas is covered. In 2005, Orozco used a computer program to map out every possible permutation, a total of 677 colour variants, which he has gradually painted over the years. By meticulously following the mathematic logic behind the game of chess, these works examine the multitude of possibilities inherent within a defined structure to mesmerising effect.
In Samurai Tree (Invariant 8) Orozco evolves this elegant structural diagram of circles and quadrants, relating it to the organic symmetry in the growth of a tree as seen from above. ‘I love the idea of how trees grow from a center’ Orozco once explained, ‘how they also grow underground and on the ground from a center and a horizon and they start to develop all the branches. A tree is a metaphor for me’ (G. Orozco quoted in Y. A. Bois, ‘The Tree and the Knight’, Gabriel Orozco, exh. cat., Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City 2006, p. 269).