The précis of Eduardo Terrazas’s long career in his 2012 monograph, Possibilities of a Structure, describes him simply as a ‘creator’. That seems fair: now nearly 80, the Guadalajara-born Terrazas has been an architect (of houses, airport terminals, cultural centres), museographer, graphic designer, urban planner, commissioner for the World’s Fair and, since his first solo exhibition in 1972, an artist whose work has ranged from installations of Mexican handicrafts to balloon-like plaza sculptures and spidery abstractions in acrylic and India ink, among other things. No single-room commercial gallery show could cover all of that activity – and Terrazas’s first UK solo exhibition doesn’t try. Instead, as if the artist were relatively monomaniacal, it assembles a dozen zesty geometric abstractions using wool yarn and wax, dual-dated to the early-to-mid 1970s and 2015, which suggests that they’ve been remade (as does their fresh appearance), and ten small, framed drawings. The result not only rotates Terrazas’s most instantly accessible and likeable face towards a contemporary art audience, but also serves as an informal clinic in hybrid aesthetics and their useful relation to jaded palettes.
Most of what’s here is culled from the series ‘Possibilities of a Structure’, which Terrazas primarily developed from 1970–80, though this sequence itself divides into sub-themes: ‘Cosmos’, ‘Grid’, ‘Diagonals’ and ‘Nine Circles’. Examples of each are presented, rooted in a relentless logic of permutation. Take a square, fill it with a circle, place another square inside that, a small circle inside that, and run diagonals, verticals and horizontals from the corners and sides of the largest square. You now have a fairly rich set of divisions from which to begin editing and extrapolating. Erase some lines to create polygonal graphic segments, which can be tinted with whatever colour schemes you choose, as in the cool greyscale of Possibilities of a Structure: Cosmos 1.1.11 (1974–2015). Or add nested rainbows of curves like vinyl grooves, as in Possibilities of a Structure: Cosmos 1.1.13 (1976–2015). Or ditch the curves altogether and run ludic variations on the remaining grid, as in the pinging, pink-orange-blue-green maze of Possibilities of a Structure: Grid 1.4.12 (1974–2015). Or, again, replace the large circles with a grid of smaller ones, as in Possibilities of a Structure: Nine Circles 1.2.15 (2014–15).
The range of adjustments might not be infinite but it is clearly capacious, and in each case there’s a patent push-pull between symmetry and asymmetry, repetition and deviation, clarity and commotion. There’s also, of course, the impression of formal novelty. Unless you’ve seen Terrazas’s work in the various biennials and museum and gallery shows in which it has been included since 2012, this may be your first experience of the textile technique he uses. Borrowed from indigenous Mexican folk art, (for several years from the early 1970s onward, Terrazas worked closely with Santos Motoaapohua de la Torre de Santiago, a Huichol craftsman), this involves coating wooden panels with wax and then intricately overlaying them with wool. There’s a consistent buzzy pleasure in how the designs’ angles pull in different directions to those of the faultless ranks of fibre, a subtler patterning hiding behind the overt one. As you move closer, it’s the small artisanal touches that pop out: a spiralling roll of wool nestled into a tight corner, or the way the soft yarn bends snugly around the panels’ sides.
As he suggests in interviews, Terrazas’s variegating activity is intended to reflect the natural universe’s own branching fecundity and, at the subatomic level, its geometric basis. This attitude of wonder, nevertheless, doesn’t feel like urgent content, and maybe didn’t four decades ago either. It’s also easy to assent to and hard to really grasp. The viewer is more likely to treat these works as comfort food – yes, they fit into evolving canons of global modernism and chime with later works such as Gabriel Orozco’s own geometric abstractions (e.g. his ‘Samurai Tree’ series), so it’s defensible that they’re in a gallery like this. But it’s somehow more interesting not to defend them: to enjoy their high-craft tastefulness as a kind of problem, to consider the possible differences between ‘artist’ and ‘creator’, to focus on how Terrazas’s pieces resemble jazzed-up architectural plans or even macramé bedspreads, and to appreciate their general ontological indistinctness. These works are, right now, a bit rogue. They are of the past, while appearing (and apparently being) spanking new, to be parsed in the now. They speak a language we know and might perhaps find overfamiliar, doing so via unexpected textures that superficially rejuvenate that language. Yet Terrazas’s art, here, still feels conservative – not only because it sustains, and gains energy from, a craft tradition but also because it is less ambitious, more interested in congenial design, than the modernist geometric abstraction from which it also follows on. If you find yourself liking the result, even guardedly, then you have some interesting questions to ask yourself. This in itself may be a good thing.