Ibsen Espada was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. His identity as a painter has been well established in Houston since he moved here in the mid-1970s after spending time in Puerto Rico with his mentor Cuban artist Rolando Lopez Dirube. Today Espada is considered a leading contemporary artist in Houston, and one of the few Hispanic artists to have participated in the seminal 1986 exhibition Fresh Paint: The Houston Schoolhosted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His work was also recognized and included in the highly-publicized 1987 exhibition Hispanic Art in the United States: 30 Contemporary Painters and Sculptors which debuted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston before embarking on a 4-city tour to the Lowe Museum in Miami, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
From his auspicious inclusion in important exhibitions in the 1980s until now, Espada has remained true to his cultural and artistic roots. For a number of years, he worked as Dorothy Hood’s studio assistant once she returned to Houston after years spent in Mexico. He has been influenced by and has absorbed the work of other modernist masters, including the work of the Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam and the Belgian painter Pierre Alechinsky. However, to his credit, Espada has not been content to remain in a particular style, nor merely to reflect the examples of other artists. His mark making is very much his own and subject to continual change of mood.
Espada has established himself as one of the most important contemporary Texas painters working in a personal mode of gestural abstraction. He has developed a bold approach that includes calligraphic marks that energize a painting’s pictorial space. He is unafraid of mixing materials in order to activate the surface of his canvas. He employs collage techniques such as the attachment of various papers to his canvases, and he also applies paint with unusual tools. Often, the thin ,straight lines in his paintings are applied with automobile wiper blades. Recently, he has begun a series of paintings using large billboard materials, painting directly on top of the printed colors and signage.
While growing up in Puerto Rico, Espada was a drummer in a band that played in bars and restaurants. He has carried his drummer’s sense of rhythm into his gestural approach to painting. The densely layered calligraphic marks in his works simulate to visually pulsating cadence that moves across the entire surface of the painting. It is this intense rhythmic and dance-like movement of Espada’s mark-making that gives credence to the poet and art critic Harold Rosenberg’s famous axiom, “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act…what was to go on the canvas was not a picture, but an event.” Ibsen Espada has indeed captured the pulse of a painting’s ability to be an event.
He has been recognized at one of the most prolific Hispanic artists working in Texas today and his work can be seen in museum collections, such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; The Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont; and the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi.
Selected Biographical and Career Highlights
1952, Born in New York, New York
Raised in Puerto Rico
Resides in Houston, Texas
1972-75 University of the Sacred Heart, College of Arts and Humanities, Santurce, Puerto Rico, BFA
Member of the Art Students’ League, San Juan, Puerto Rico
1977 Frank Freed Memorial Award, Alfred C. Glassell School of Art, Houston, Texas
1978 T.R. Curtis Memorial Award, Alfred C. Glassell School of Art, Houston, Texas
Member of the Core Artist Program, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1980s, Considered part of the unofficial “Houston School” of artists
1985 Fresh Paint: The Houston, School, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Texas; PS1, New York, New York
1987 Hispanic Art in the United States: 30 Contemporary Painters and Sculptors, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Lowe Museum, Miami, Florida; Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California;, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Student and studio assistant to artist Dorothy Hood
1990 Tradition and Innovation: A Museum Celebration of Texas Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
1990 Mill Street Gallery, Aspen, Colorado
1990 Art 1990, McMurtrey Gallery, Houston, Texas
1989 Arte Moderno Gallery, San Antonio, Texas
1989 Exhibition (SoHo), New York, New York
1989 Black and White, AIR Gallery, Austin, Texas
1989 Janus Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
1987 Hispanic Art in the United States: 30 Contemporary Painters and Sculptors, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Traveled to: Lowe Museum, Miami, Florida; Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York
1987 Myth Makers, William Campbell Contemporary Art, Fort Worth, Texas
1986 Paper, McMurtrey Gallery, Houston, Texas
1986 The Plate Show, Perception Gallery, Houston, Texas
1985 Fresh Paint: The Houston School, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Traveled to: Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Inc. (MoMA PS1), Queens, New York; Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (catalogue)
1984 Benefit Show for Diverse Works, Hyatt Regency hotel, Houston, Texas
1983 Recent Work by Suzy Paul and Ibsen Espada, Center for Art and Performance, Houston, Texas
1983 Houston Salutes its Artists, Midtown Arts Center, Houston, Texas
1981 Lawndale Annex, University of Houston, Texas
1979 Roberto Molina Gallery, Houston, Texas
1978 Roberto Molina Gallery, Houston, Texas
Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, Texas
Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas