Gasoline Paintings and Honeycomb Skulls Recast Ancient Traditions

All images courtesy the artist

Scrambling smoke, oozing honeycomb, and burning wood are the preferred materials of Oaxacan artist Sabino Guisu. Best known for his large-scale canvases that literally go up in smoke, Guisu’s works are themed around “the dangers that nature faces in the hands of modern society.”

Guisu is dedicated to working with natural elements as a means of furthering ancestral Mexican traditions. Guisu tells The Creators Project, “Humanity has been amazed by fire since its early beginnings, entire civilizations have been reduced to ashes only to rise again and again with new perspectives. I grew up in a family where the tradition of pottery and craftsmanship has been handed down from generation to generation. When I first saw my grandparents heating the clay I was fascinated by the accidents that the fire provoked upon the vessels. I was captivated not only by the destructive power of the fire but also by the traces left behind by the smoke, the result of a controlled accident.”

His body of work is diverse, from honeycomb skulls and maps, to portraits of dead celebrities like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. He says, “The mainstream icons that have been a part of my body of work have been carefully selected based on their violent deaths and how much they contributed to society. I used gasoline for these icon’s portraits to express how fast one’s life can combust and how our essence is left behind lingering in history.” The Hokusai wave was made by burning petrol to create a relationship between the ocean and the realities of petrol pollution. 

Affiliated with the Institute of Graphic Arts in Oaxaca, he took mentorship from the esteemed founding artist Francisco Toledo, but he also worked there as a librarian there and used his time to research the many subjects he interprets in his works. The strength in his works is making timely concepts palatable through his performance of them. “Bigger formats allow me to somehow liberate the technique—the smoke is constantly trying to 'escape' and a large canvas can capture its trace in a much better way,” he explains. “I like to provide the audience with a larger scale so they can appreciate the smoke’s unique volubility at its best.” 



Aside from the gasoline paintings, the artist took apiculture lessons from a friend that has a bee sanctuary in San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya in Oaxaca to learn how to incorporate the materials in his body of work. He wanted to make sculptures to spur the conversation around the extinction of bees. Perhaps Guisu’s greatest strength as an artist is in the veneration of ancient practices and tying them into this modern world we live in. His contemporary works using materials like wood, wax, and herbs remind us that we can maintain our indigenous histories and traditions and tell new stories with them.  

Click here to learn more about the artist. 

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