Joseba Eskubi

Joseba Eskubi, Untitled, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm, 2019

Known for his weird and wonderfully amorphous forms, Joseba Eskubi is an artist whose imagery is highly evocative whilst never quite becoming the things it evokes. What might be suggestive of a butterfly could also call to mind a ballerina’s dress, the body of an insect might also be a precious item of jewelry, what might be perceived as a bird could equally be an ornament. Curious clumps of matter are presented in surprising configurations, the organic and the inorganic intertwined in such strange ways that the viewer can never be entirely sure if they are looking at something living, something that once lived, or something that has never been alive. They are neither fish nor fowl. There is also the rather disturbing possibility that the things he paints have been brought to life by unnatural means – as if through magic or witchcraft. Indeed, there is something distinctly totemic, or talismanic, about many of Eskubi’s paintings ­– feathers and hair, fabric and stones, limbs and flesh conspiring to suggest exotic fetishes from civilizations unknown.

In many works, these mysterious objects float in the air, suspended against a backdrop of pure or muddied colors – from black to putty, murky pink to rusty orange, dingy blue to a sickly yellow. On other occasions, the objects are set in a landscape of sorts, with almost abstract bands of land, sea, horizon, and sky variously merging and separating. While the Earth offers great variety in the colors of the natural environment, the geology of Eskubi’s landscapes often feels to be not of this world, as though we are looking at the surfaces of planets in distant galaxies. In some instances, the viewer is left to ponder the scale of the imagery depicted – are we looking at a large object in the distance, or a small object close up? As our minds struggle to rationalize the object itself, our understanding of the environment surrounding it is destabilized, resulting in conflicting sensations of intimacy and detachment, proximity and perspective. Similarly, the viewer would be justified if they felt uncertain as to the weight of Eskubi’s creations – some heavy-looking forms appear to float with ease, while other lighter-looking things seem to hover just above the ground, or to be on, or buried in, the surface. Rocks that might be animals, fantastical creatures that might be masquerading as flotsam and jetsam from the delirious mind of a rogue taxidermist, and billowing apparitions that threaten to take on the human form are just part of Eskubi’s lexicon, a language of amorphous matter evolving towards the biomorphic and anthropomorphic, a language of odd dreams on the cusp of turning into nightmares. These things, these beings, are often so close to being human they appear to have the proportions of the body, complete with limbs, heads, and sometimes even faces, yet they’re always remains something not quite human, not quite fully conscious about them. There is a sense in Eskubi’s work that we are not looking through rational eyes at the real world, but rather through a filter of sleep, or of the subconscious, or of fantasy. In painting, we are perhaps always looking at an illusion, and even in the darkest corners of abstraction, we are inevitably entering a liminal space that is just beneath reality.

– Mathew Price

Joseba Eskubi graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of the Basque Country in 1991, where he currently teaches as a professor in the Department of Painting. He lives and works in Bilbao, Spain.