At any moment, Bosco Sodi’s painting is going to crack. For two weeks, it’s been a bubbling and squeaking hot mess of sawdust, water, and latex, with layers of titanium white and carbon black pigment mixed in. Now, it’s starting to dry and take on its own shape. When it cracks, Sodi will abandon the piece, choosing not to interfere with imperfection or accident.
Volatile surfaces are something of a signature for this Mexican-born artist, who has made a career out of manipulating scorched earth and reactive matter into largescale works of art—only to relinquish control of their final outcome. To see him create is to see a man entirely enthralled by the primitive powerlessness of humans against natural forces.
“Every time it’s a surprise, like opening a present. I’m either amazed or disappointed.”
On this hot summer Friday in late July, Sodi steps up close to the massive canvas, leaning in to review the results. After a moment of silence, his shy expression turns to one of wonderment. “Every time it’s a surprise, like opening a present. I’m either amazed or disappointed,” he says, hovering his hands over the peaks and valleys of this inky black topography. Depending on your perspective, it could pass for the dark side of the moon. “You see, it’s much more about the process than the outcome.” It is through the process of creating these parched topographies that Sodi discovers the beauty in imperfection, impermanence, and accident.
"Sodi’s artworks currently command between $50,000 and $200,000 per piece, and serious dealers are taking notice."
In some respects, this particular 10-by-10-foot untitled work represents a culmination in Sodi’s career. It was commissioned this year by Paul Kasmin Gallery for the artist’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, “Bosco Sodi: Malpaís,” an event that follows the artist’s commercial successes in London, Mexico City, Barcelona, and Berlin. (Sodi’s artworks currently command between $50,000 and $200,000 per piece, and serious dealers are taking notice.) This fall, a new collector’s gallery at the Albany resort in the Bahamas will showcase Sodi’s latest works, as curated by international art dealer José Mestre. Next year, Kasmin will attempt to up this by shipping 10 tons of Sodi’s works to New York for a repeat exhibition. Meanwhile, two prominent museums in Mexico City—Museo Nacional de Arte and Museo Anahucalli—are currently planning Sodi exhibitions. And you can bet the nine art galleries who represent the artist in cities around the world are keen to keep this momentum going.
But Sodi doesn’t want to talk business. He’d rather talk experiments. Gauging from the contents of his warehouse- turned-laboratory studio on Brooklyn’s Red Hook waterfront, that’s abundantly clear.
Artist Bosco Sodi in his Brooklyn studio.
Image: Robert Banat.
Sodi at work in his Brooklyn studio.
Image: Charlie Rubin
Here, accidents are welcome. And mad scientist attire—plastic hazmat suits, goggles, and the industrial gloves that hang from iron hooks lining the studio’s concrete walls—is the dress code. A collection of cracking clay sculptures, paintings bursting with vivid color, and exploded volcanic rock are scattered throughout the raw industrial space, like abandoned inhabitants of a distant planet. This is Sodi’s grand explosive experiment, which always reaches the same conclusion: that control is just an illusion.
To prove this point, Sodi embarks on regular expeditions to source live volcanic rock, one of earth’s most volatile, unpredictable materials. He is partial to the Ceboruco volcano in Mexico, near his birthplace. Here, he meets a team of workers from a local ceramic factory, and they proceed to hack through the rough terrain with machetes until they’ve found the ideal specimens. Selected and cleaned, the rocks are then shipped to one of Sodi’s studios in Barcelona, Mexico, or Brooklyn, where they are then encased in a brightly colored ceramic glaze (think: electric magenta or glimmering gold) and cooked at 1,260 degrees Celsius for three days. What happens next is the exciting part.
"What is strikingly special about Bosco isn’t just his artwork. It is his persona."
“The concept is to find a rock when it’s glowing with orange and yellow lava. That means it’s in an alive state,” says Sodi. “Then come the accidents. If the rocks have even a little crack, they explode.” Of the total 120 volcanic rocks Sodi has acquired, only 14 have remained intact during the glazing process. It seems a bit of an odd endeavor until Bosco mentions that his father, Juan, is a chemical engineer. His influence colors every piece of his son’s restive artwork.
What is strikingly special about Bosco isn’t just his artwork. It is his persona. He’s taken lessons from years wrestling with terra firma, and has extracted very strong beliefs about time. His ability to simply be in the present is uncanny. The rhythm of his Spanish speech is slow and measured. His movements are gentle. His gaze is patient— all because he’s not rushing through this moment to get to the next one.
“We’re going to be here for just a moment. As artists, we have an obligation to leave this place better than we found it.”
“I hope my work reflects the temporal nature of life,” he says, leaning into the cushy back of an oversized couch. “We’re going to be here for just a moment. As artists, we have an obligation to leave this place better than we found it.”
Exactly how Sodi achieves this goal is left open to interpretation. Nearly all of his abstract works are intentionally untitled, because he prefers to remove preconceptions from the viewer’s experience. Instead, he wants us to stop. To take a moment. To be present with his art.
An untitled piece by Sodi.
Image: Kevin Kunstadt.
Sodi at work in his Brooklyn studio.
Image courtesy Bosco Sodi.