Ricardo Morales-Hernández: Landscapes

by Nathaniel Hitchcock 

The colonial landscapes of the island of Puerto Rico are structured by the pictorial language; tropical as paradisiacal. This image—a phantasmagoria—is a transparency as large as the landscape itself.[1] It contains a mythology mediated by a vision of the island’s own likeness, which is used against itself and is a mechanism for remote control. It is a map sited directly atop the existing landscape of earth, water, flora and fauna. Its surface is an opaque simulation of the supports it is draped over.

Ricardo Morales-Hernández's studio is situated in the forest, adjacent to his home in the mountains of Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. He maintains two outdoor working spaces within walking distance from one another; one is used for painting, the other used for drawing. The studio where his paintings are produced is contained within a circular enclosure, bordered by two large boulders and a grove of trees and vines, and is open to the canopy above. In this studio he has erected a single white wall on which he hangs his canvases while working (and looking).

 Fig. 1 Ricardo Morales-Hernández (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1980),  Viento SDG-017-005 , 2017. 16 x 20 inches. Artist-made charcoal on canvas.

Fig. 1 Ricardo Morales-Hernández (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1980), Viento SDG-017-005, 2017. 16 x 20 inches. Artist-made charcoal on canvas.

The second studio, which he uses for drawing, is an open area of the forest near an active creek. Here, Morales-Hernandez manufactures his own charcoal from branches he collects in the area, used to draw/write onto the surfaces of his raw canvases that are stretched asymmetrically over and between two tall trees.[2]


Ricardo Morales-Hernández is trained as a historian.[3] He attended the Media Art Histories, International Masters Programme, associated with Donau-Universität Krems at the Stift Göttweig in Austria. During his studies, he worked to digitize the abbey’s extensive collection of graphic art, in collaboration with the university's Department für Bildwissenschaften (Department for Image Science). This training is important, in so far as it allows us to consider his work to be informed by the contemporary computer, and its predecessor’s. The analog tendencies of his production—and the theoretical conflations of screens and digital programs—must therefore been understood as an informed departure working in a critical capacity against the pervasive logics of neoliberalism, which are underpinned by views of humans and their societies as algorithmically fungible.

In his canvases, Morales-Hernández omits the light of the screen, a negation that—unlike Post-Internet works, which rely on the same ideological instruments, by seeking to emulate its light—points instead towards systems of nature, or what the artist terms “natural networks,” which he compares to digital information distribution systems. This negation eliminates the micro-narratives that usually ensue from touching a screen. Morales-Hernández’s interactions are one to one. In the field of interaction design (now called User Experience, or UX), one to one interaction took place historically in painting simulation programs. During the compositional process of mark-making, the artist performs these interactions, not out of necessity due to the limitsofhischosenmedia,but as a way to formally pair down to their minimal point of departure.[4] This distillation, through the mediated actions of touch, brings to the fore the bedrock principle of digital interfaces—bringing together issues of surface (screen and canvas) and support (the stretcher andcode).

By entitling his instruments—artist-made charcoal, as well as raw tree branches—with the term “styluses” (displayed for the first time in Forced Autumn [5]) Morales-Hernández places is his work in direct conversation with the computer screen. Not dissimilar to the light (of Allora & Calzadilla’s work [6]) emanating from the cave at the Convento south of his studios,

Morales-Hernández’s conflation of the light of the screen with the surface of the canvas reveals that these “paradisiacal” images are themselves tools for obfuscation; images sitting on an infinitely thin flat surface, which hide a robust set of rules that support them—as images to be decoded.

In his works employing paint, in which the styluses are drug through the layers revealing the linen and any underpainting, no penetration occurs. In the additive works, such as Viento

 Fig. 2 Ricardo Morales-Hernández (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1980  Soli Deo Gloria. SDG-016-400 , 2016 96 x 106 inches. Construction chalk and latex paint on raw canvas drop cloth.

Fig. 2 Ricardo Morales-Hernández (b. San Juan, Puerto Rico), 1980 Soli Deo Gloria. SDG-016-400, 2016 96 x 106 inches. Construction chalk and latex paint on raw canvas drop cloth.

SDG-017-005, 2017 (Fig. 1), images come together as drawn with charcoal, made by the artist in his studio, and blue construction chalk, as in Soli Deo Gloria. SDG-016-400, 2016 (Fig. 2), sourced from one of the many Home Depot locations on the island.

The marks on his canvases, which depict terrestrial landscapes, he terms Tropical Grammatics. Each mark exists within a serial form of notation which comes together with an impression of infinite potentials. There is a certain lyricality to them. Marks hover between abstract, textual characters, musical notes, scribbles of children, and rubbings of the landscape itself.7 Points between where the instrument touches the ground, and where it makes its departure, give the impression of tracing an individual object, isolated from its neighbor. In this way, each of the marks are not fixed, meaning that their compositional proximity that forms the final image, appears as if it were a result of an operation dictated by the ground on which they are made.

This appearance becomes equated to the touch of a stylus (actual) to the surface of a screen. As in MS Paint, the default white field within the window where the user can draw dictates the character of the mark, as it is put down. The underlying code algorithmically informs the output to the computer's screen.


Imitation of computer logic and the algorithmic generation of marks on a canvas begins with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings.8 Putting algorithms on display—on a wall—Pollock disrupted the viewers understanding of a one to one production (allowing paint to drop from the instrument to the floor by the force of gravity) as an entry point to the work by reorienting it in space. If Morales-Hernández's paintings make use of a similar reorientation—that of the canvas drop cloth moving from the the floor to the wall—his works perhaps also hide a one to one interaction with nature, or the environment of their production. Instead of putting an algorithm on display, as they may appear if we think of them as screens or Windows, he makes use of the analog tendencies of the material to drape, revealing peaks and valleys as the fabric conforms to the architecture of the objects it rests on. What lies below this he takes as his subject. This is theoretical. Morales-Hernández's gestures are not one to one tracings or rubbings—the simplest one to one maps. Instead, a translation occurs as the dropcloth enters his studio and is reconfigured vertically. The material is shifted away from its industrial purposes, that of masking, and towards the possibility of revelation.

Morales-Hernández's disruption of the industrial masking device by repurposing it as a container for meaning, privileges the remnants (or what would typically be viewed as such) through a process of translative mapping. The blue construction chalk he uses to draw with has the industrial purpose of visualizing a measurement across a surface. The conventional mark made with this chalk is by the instrument of the snapline, which is in fact a map of the dimension, a measurement by drawing—from point A to point B, the full length of a span—a map the size of the landscape.


[1] Korzybski, Alfred (1996) [1st ed. 1933]. "Chapter IV: On Structure". In Schuchardt Read, Charlotte. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics(CD-ROM ed.). p. 58.

[2] Morales-Hernandez, prior to late 2016, shared a 6,000ft studio, indoors, with Chemi Rosado-Seijo, Jorge González in Santurce, San Juan, PR.

[3] Ricardo Morales-Hernández considers his pursuit of art history to be angled towards the social sciences, and his work as a historian is often folded into the social components of his practice.

[4] Ludologist Jesper Juul describes the minimal point of departure, in video games, as the least possible visual information made available to a player while maintaining immersive coherencey in the fictional, visual landscape of the gamespace. The term is used here as a way to describe Ricardo Morales-Hernández's material considerations as they relate to immersion within the actual landscape.

[5] This text was originally authored to coincide with the group exhibition Forced Autumn, at Chicago Manual Style, Chicago, IL. The exhibition included works and instruments by Ricardo Morales-Hernández, alongside works by artist collectives CARNE (Adriana Martínez, and Mariana Murcia), and Allora & Calzadilla.

[6] Forced Autumn, Checklist & Floorplan. November 2017. Accessed January 5, 2018. The Night We Became People Again, 2017, by Allora & Calzadilla, was included in the exhibition Forced Autumn and is referenced more substantially in another version of this text. It depicts the surroundings of a cave which hosts their work Puerto Rican Light.

[7] Ricardo Morales-Hernández often works collaboratively on his canvases and other projects with his two young children.

[8] Manetas, Miltos. FRANCESCOBONAMI.COM PRESENTS: THE NEEN DOGMA OF PAINTING. March 16, 2003. Accessed January 23, 2018.