artist statement


My work features extensive accumulations that visually explore eternity and struggle through manic mark making. Considering the concepts of time, space and number, I create hundreds of thousands of marks, exhibiting conscious and sensitive attention to both detail and the whole. I begin to form small universes, each a relic of the arduous performance of repeated gestures. reconciling personal experience with the ideas of measurement and disorder in conceptual layers; the compulsive mark reflects the eternal battle between myself and my surroundings, but the product becomes a facsimile of the sublime remoteness of the universe in miniature, revealing at once loneliness, futility, chaos and uncertainty. This work is a metaphor for the fragile imperium under which we all reside.
—Mario Trejo


I am fascinated with space, time and numbers. I draw black accumulations of quickly executed idiosyncratic circles forming abstract compositions. These repetitive, meticulous and time based works are all attempts to visualize epic numbers of macrocosmic and microcosmic entities. The amalgamations of hundreds of thousands of circles in varying densities begin to resemble pocket universe, each a relic of an arduous performance of repeated gestures.

The perfect circle is the greatest example of perfection and knowledge. The perversion of its flawless symmetrical form by my hand represents my failed attempt to recreate perfection, and my inability to grasp the ideal. The relentless repetition of these circles is my continuous attempt to comprehend cosmic phenomenon and the human condition. It is the desperate effort of an impotent being to understand unanswerable questions. The compulsive accumulations of these peculiar marks is a never-ending struggle with myself and my surroundings at a distance, the works appear to be homogeneous fields of order, but upon closer inspection, each expanse of black marks crumbles into a Promethean struggle, manic fields of chaos and uncertainty.

During the drawing process, I am able to estimate the average numbers of circles per square inch and the amount of circles drawn per second. Hence I attain a certain comfort in the accumulation of vast quantities of hand drawn marks that imitate and articulate the otherwise unfathomable infinite.


Catharsis, the new series and exhibition from Mario Trejo, refreshingly remixes the artist’s process while reiterating his core artistic values. The title has its root in the Greek katharsos, for “pure”. In Trejo’s case, the word captures his fierce commitment to creating a universe piece by identical piece. While each component of Catharsis stands alone as an environment in which the artist’s marks swarm and form, congregate and coagulate, as a series they show the tremendous potential for fluctuation within a rigid system of atomized gestures. The binary chromatics, parity of mark-making, and consistency of dimensions evident in all of the pieces are what Trejo has imposed on his own process: a purification of form and content. What results from this structure are compositions that radiate a controlled chaos and a sophisticated treatment of volume, perspective, and scale. Trejo has long been a shaper of positive and negative space, using a black and white palette to emphasize the contrast between background and gesture. The images he has created for Catharsis utilize this method to elegantly occupy the picture plane as if in a photogram or some sort of electroscopic imaging print. That is, they seem evidentiary. And like all his work, that state of seeming truth is balanced by anambivalence of scope: Are these satellite photographs of some astronomical wonder? Or simply the extreme close-ups of the tangles of human detritus found behind the radiator or under the bed? Trejo’s dense clouds of spidery filaments occupy and transcend both the monumental and the minute.

It is somewhat of a departure from his previous Idiosyncratic series, begun during the artist’s graduate studies and currently ongoing. Catharsis, Trejo’s first new body of work since he emerged in the St. Louis art scene this past year, denotes an evolution of the artist’s vision of the mark as the building block of the performance and remnant, and of the void as the arena for battles between hand and instrument, space and perception, part and whole. The Idiosyncratic drawings, with their heavy blackness imposed on the white void of virgin canvas and panel, and evocatively severe titles like Imperium, Ad Infinitum, and Struggle, privilege massivity and numerical record. They deal with conceptual influences including the history of war and the physics of astronomy, divergent source material rooted in the overwhelming and not totally comprehensible aspects and conditions of experience. Populated with anywhere from a few hundred to a million hand-drawn circles, these pieces epitomize the struggle of the artist, not just over his own creation, but over his own physical limitation. Having witnessed the artist at work, bent over a sawhorse-supported panel, furiously attacking the surface with tight rotations of a micron pen in one hand, while obsessively recording his progress into a calculator with the other, I feel it is safe to say that this struggle is not feigned. It is a mode of creation in dialogue with Abstract Expressionism and performance that requires physical training to prevent serious hand or wrist injury. Thus the density of the circles, as they spread and cluster,is both victorious and sinister. It signifies the striving toward a sublimity whose failure is built into its inception. It is the human attempt at illustrating the overwhelming smallness of one’s own existence through the nearly pugilistic determination to quantify infinity. Paradoxical, yes, but this ambivalence is part of what gives the Idiosyncratic series its visual power.

By contrast, the Catharsis series displays a lightness absent in Trejo’s earlier work. The marks no longer close in on themselves, but burst abundantly forth from multiple points of origin. Line quality re-asserts itself. The artist’s hand is still recorded in every stroke, but the resulting forms take on an energetic exuberance and almost electric pulse that is wholly new. While in the Idiosyncratic series the mark subsumes the void to the point of becoming the void itself, in Catharsis the void remains, at least in the majority of the pieces, dominant. This allows new experimentation with mathematics and optics to suggest weight, mass, and charge. Perspective, shading, and scale are elegantly and sparingly employed with deftness that now enhances the artist’s raw determination and physical endurance. Titled simply with Roman numerals, the Catharsis drawings could be iterations of the same set of marks perpetually re-configured, as if a pile of iron filings swept over and over again by a giant magnet, even as the shift from circular to linear gestures has dramatically expanded the lexicon of visual referents that the compositions can suggest. The particles begin to form horizons, as in Untitled I and XVI, thickets, as in Untitled II, X, and XIII, and follicles, as in Untitled XX and XXI, all the while resisting the finality of total classification.

Clearly the artist has begun to massage his own system, an adaptability that bodes well for his future artistic viability. It shows that even within a very particular and highly structured practice, he is no one-trick pony. Rather, he has the ability to push the boundaries of his own artistic ideals in order to recognize their potential more and more fully. In this contemporary moment, when art objects are not always honest with the viewer about their origins, making, and meaning, Trejo maintains a fundamental commitment to work that contains its own history as well as its own self-evident value. That this fundamental commitment to purity can result in work that embodies such mystery, metaphysical energy, and optical wonder is a testament to the artist’s disciplined mind and unflinchingly precise hand.
—Hannah Piper Burns

The Battle of Attention

A heroic approach to painting has been suspect for some time now, for good reason. Mid-twentieth century, the quest of abstract expressionist painters was understood as heroic and “universal” in a way that sorely needed questioning.  But now that the limitations of a modernist “hero’s journey” have been widely acknowledged, perhaps it is possible for an artist to be admired in a twenty-first century way for a hero’s fortitude and brave deeds.

Mario Trejo recoups heroism in painting by cheerfully pursuing focused, repetitive mark-marking to the point of physical discomfort and beyond. He dares himself to make a million marks, another million marks, and another. This dedication is impressive in its own way, but one could be a fanatic mark-maker without making art. Trejo manages to focus, simultaneously, on the micro and macro scale of his works, building large forms from cellular notations. This produces an intriguing contradiction: when one looks closely at his controlled, minuscule marks, the muscles of one’s writing hand ache in sympathy. Yet the larger forms of the drawing seem to have emerged as surely, and as naturally, as a body builds itself. As he draws, Trejo seems to connect with a rhythm that guides him in placing each mark so that it will be, unquestionably, an active contributor to a larger whole. His project is not simply endurance but endurance in service of a vision.

As a young artist, Trejo explored a branch of cultural study that receives no mention in art schools: military history, and often ancient military history at that. Combat dramas, tales of stoic drudgery punctuated by lightning quick life-and-death decisions, gave him a model of discipline that he has had the imagination to apply in the extraordinarily different circumstances of studio practice.  In light of that interest, a work with a title such as Magnificent Fortress (Magnificent Center) or I Defy You carries more than formal associations, although the forms are packed with energy and need no narrative to engage a viewer’s attention. They contain the excitement of their making, a continuous marshaling of attention that seems wondrous in our age of distraction.

Viewing Trejo’s work delivers an experience of mental and physical concentration, the echo of his process. In common language, one “battles” to pay attention. Trejo must conduct that battle with honor to make these vital and rigorous works. In demonstrating the pictorial possibilities of discipline, Trejo brings fresh relevance to the hero’s stance.
—Meredith Tromble

Chaos and Coalesce: Mario Trejo’s Recent Works

For the past three years, Mario Trejo has been working on an extensive series of mixed-media paintings that stake out otherworldly territory between the ideas of the eventful object and the objectified event. Simply described, they are catch-baskets of automatist inscriptions. The marks in question usually number in the thousands, yet each seems unique, as if it were a small albeit highly energized fragment of an electro-encephalograph print out. In almost every instance, these works sport only two colors, and more often than not, those colors are hardly what one could call colorful. With only a very few exceptions, their typical dimensions never exceed three by four feet, meaning that the viewer is invited to walk up to them rather stand back from them.

That simple “just-the-facts” description leaves out the crucial point of these new works, and indeed, all of the work that Trejo has made during the past two decades. That point is that they do not merely a display an inventory of marks, but rather, that they display a canny organization of those marks that opens our eyes to the invisible energies that animate the tangible world. To say the same thing in more precise terms, we can say that the aspect of these works that compels our gaze is the way that said marks move toward and away from each other as if they were all thrall to fluctuating magnetic fields of unseen energy.

Seen in this way, the gestural marks in Trejo’s works can be likened to iron filings responding to the proximity of moving magnets. This is not to say that these works are not science projects—even though some of their titles might suggest otherwise. It is better to see them as meditative exercises in ultra-deep introspection, so deep that they not only reveal the mind-body connectivity that inheres in the ritualized organization of discreet gestures, but also the pulsating metabolic activity of the individual cells of the body as well, echoing the idea that each is an chemical engine that produces both psychic and bodily energy. This last point is not so far-fetched. One feature that unites all of Trejo’s new paintings is their balancing of centripetal and centrifugal energies, which makes them seem to simultaneously pulsate while also inviting their viewers’ imaginations to explore a deep otherworldly space, all-the-while asserting their affinity with the old Surrealist maxim proclaiming that “the visible world is no longer reality and the unseen world is no longer a dream.”1

The earliest abstract painting s that were produced by artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimer Malevich just over a century ago shared a common aspiration, which was to evoke and indicate a moment of spiritual transcendence that harked back to the realms of Platonic purity. Trejo’s recent paintings reach back to that older, pre-color field moment of abstract painting by representing the “spiritual” transcendence of representation, showing us forms that come into visible being like slow explosions of energy emanating from a primordial void. In their haptic tactility, and in the way that their forms seem to be in a perpetual state of being and becoming, Trejo’s new paintings can be said to symbolize the transcendence of symbolism by refocusing our gaze on the underlying dynamicism of seemingly static forms.
—Mark Van Proyen

1.This phrase was often quoted or paraphrased in Surrealist literature, but is in fact properly attributed to the Symbolist poet and critic Arthur Symons. See Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Art and Literature (1899). (London: Heinemann Publishers, 1980). 5.