For over two decades Gabriel Orozco has worked on a global scale, presenting witty investigations of everyday situations, playing with the rules of perception, and teasing the imagination. His works span a variety of media-photography, sculpture, video, drawing, and painting. Uniting his practice is an interest in mapping, geometry, and structures.
In 2004, as part of a solo exhibition at London's Serpentine Gallery, he debuted his Samurai Tree series. The series marked both a departure-in that they were his first instance of painting in over a decade-and a continuation-in that they sustain the artist's inquiry into structural systems. The Samurai Tree paintings follow a systemic set of rules inspired by the knight move in chess. Also known as the samurai move, the knight move is an L-shaped configuration, whereby the chess piece advances either two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally.
To create the paintings, Orozco anchors the center of the composition with a circle; this circle travels across the canvas, waxing and waning by a multiple of two, until it reaches the limits of the frame. The circles are further divided into fields of prescribed colors (red, blue, white, and gold). The colored fields circulate across the canvas as the knight would move, jumping one and two or two and one fields. With recourse to a computer program, Orozco mapped out every possible permutation of the series-677 total variants-that he has been slowly painting over the years. He has also realized the full permutations as a series of prints and a video animation, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Circles, spheres, atoms, and ellipses are central to Orozco's iconography and the Samurai Tree series expands the artist's interest in the lexicon of games. As Orozco has said of the series:
"The circle for me is a very useful instrument in terms of movement, in relation to gravity and erosion I decided to do the Samurai Tree series to see how much they could express geometry but also organicity. I started from the minimal point of the centre, and then developed the structure toward the frame as the limit. The sequence of colors is distributed based on how the chess knight moves, 'jumping,' two blocks and one, which I take as a representation of tri-dimensionality in a bi-dimensional field. I think in terms of fields connected through this structure, making this a geometric field in which, when you look at it, you become aware of something that is obviously very abstract. But it's also something that sounds as if it is, or can be logical in relation to abstract thinking itself, in relation to instruments, in relation to mechanicity, in relation to our body." (G. Orozco, "Orozco in Conversation with Benjamin Buchloh," The Experience of Art: 51st International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale (Venice: Marsilio, 2005), p. 178).
Orozco has shied away from the term painting, calling the Samurai Tree series diagrams or platforms for actions. Yet the present lot is unmistakably beautiful and steeped in the history of art. In composition and conception, Orozco references the ideology of De Stijl, the Dutch modernist movement pioneered by Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian in which the arrangement of primary-colored squares was predetermined. And in technique, he employs the traditional method of gold leaf and egg tempera, referencing the pre-Renaissance formal techniques used to make medieval panel paintings and Russian icons.