On the Beat: Kiechel exhibition features work that will be included in Venice art show

By L. Kent Wolgamott

In April, Francisco Souto will be showing his drawings at the Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious international art exhibition.

Those drawings aren’t usual graphite-on-paper works. Rather, they are beautifully crafted, multilayered colored pencil pieces that, in “On beauty and displacement,” Souto’s Kiechel Fine Art exhibition that opens Friday, literally glow against the wall.

That pink light that surrounds the drawings comes from the painted boxlike frame and wooden underpieces attached by Souto that transform the two-dimensional drawings into sculptural pieces.

That presentation breakthrough is part of what takes Souto’s art to a newer, higher level than the pieces seen by those who invited him to show in Venice, and helps make the 21 pieces on the gallery walls the best work he has yet done.

“On beauty and displacement” grows out of “A Memory in Peril,” a 2016 suite of meticulous graphite drawings depicting the plight of the people of Venezuela during the political struggle and economic collapse that forced thousands to flee the country. (Full disclosure, I collaborated with Souto via a series of discussions about those drawings as they were in creation and writing following their completion.)

Those drawings were primarily figurative and, save for stripes of color along the bottom of the images, in black and white.

In his two subsequent exhibitions, the figures were gradually reduced, replaced by symbols, and the drawings themselves moved from black and white to color.

With “On beauty and displacement,” those transitions are complete — there are no figures in the show and the black and white is now exquisitely chosen shades of gray that make up the stones in pieces like “27 Years.”

The transitions have also made the exhibition’s theme more universal than the look at the struggles and displacement of the people of Souto’s native Venezuela.

“These drawings are an attempt to offer a collective experience of struggle and perseverance,” Souto, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln art professor, writes in his artist’s statement. “It is about people and their humanity in times of adverse reality. They address the shared vision of humanity through their meticulous execution and their material vocabulary.”

And, he writes and the show confirms, they intimately connect with the viewer by their small scale, exquisite detail and the sense of hope with which the pieces are imbued.

The theme carries through in the drawings’ titles — a delicate pink blossom representing “Exposed;” a grouping of tiny branches with small pink flowers in “Fragility;” and three flat, stacked stones in “Resilient.”

The stones are among the symbols that have endured through the series of exhibitions, along with the piles of discarded clothing and blankets left behind by those fleeing Venezuela.

Those stacks of material, however, now look somewhat abstract and, in two cases, are set inside another new framing, this one extending out from the box covered with brightly colored stripes.

The drawings themselves are, as always by Souto, meticulously rendered, conveying a delicacy that makes it appear, for example, that the flower in “Despoil” could curl up in front of your eyes.

The opening reception for “On beauty and displacement” is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, and the exhibition will be on view at the gallery at 1208 O St. through Dec. 1.

Then Souto expects that about half of the exhibition’s pieces will be packed up to travel to Italy early next year along with new drawings that he will make through January.

That, in a sense, makes “On beauty and displacement” a partial preview of what Souto will show when he becomes the first Lincoln artist that I know of to be part of the Venice Biennale, his inclusion itself being a measure of the esteem in which Souto and his work are internationally held.