26 January 2023
By Sara Garzón

Leandro Pesantes, El Ultimo Malkuth, 2022. 200 x 400cm.

During my online studio visit with Ecuadorian artist Leandro Pesantes (b. 1986) I was immediately taken by his incredible tranquility and mindful spirit. Leandro’s profoundly mystical practice draws on his early experiences as an evangelical Baptist missionary in the Peruvian region of Saltur. This background has resulted in a convergence between contemporary art and mystical practices, which include Santeria, astrology, numerology, and Christianity. Most significant however, is Leandro’s interest in the ways in which diverse forms of spirituality influence people’s relation to the natural world. In a deeply object-based practice, the artist draws on stones, feathers, bones, and other such materials often found in the context of ritual, healing, and cleansing, and which for millennia have shaped our understanding of the world.

Leandro Pasantes, El paraíso del diablo, 2016. Wood, wool, felt, nest, fire. Art installation.

While at first Leandro’s work may seem invested in the long tradition of landscape painting, his portrayals are not so concerned with capturing an idealised view of nature. Rather, they offer us a view of nature at the atomic level; the internal structures, colours, and forms that constitute nature and its alchemic capacity to create order out of chaos. Conveying the power of the divine within vegetal life, Leandro’s paintings portray the world in similar ways to how women mystics have done for centuries past. One has only to recall the mesmerising work of artists like the Swedish Hilma af Klint, who managed to land on an organic abstraction that is characteristic of nature’s inner structure. Or perhaps, the mystical work of the Spanish-Mexican artist Remedio Varo, who early in the twentieth century experimented with alchemy, the surreal, and the divine. Thus in the company of a long line of mystics, Leandro likewise invokes the transformative and millenarian power of nature as it connects us to the world beyond the human.

Dealing with inhospitable environments, the artist from an early age experienced a mystifying belief in the connections between spiritual and non-human actors, and the multiple ways in which they determine the destiny of humans. That is why many of Leandro’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures are inspired by his syncretic missionary work, revealing in turn how he sees and experiences things beyond scientific proof, beyond reasonable doubt, or even pragmatic objectivity.

Leandro Pesantes, El Animal Soñado, 2018.

In his work titled 3I 4N1M4I V1D3N73 (2019), Leandro employs a large number of feathers to create a formalist composition. The artist creates dynamic geometric shapes such as rhombuses, octagons, or circles using the organic quality and texture of feathers that emanate from the centre of the composition. The naturalness of the material gives the piece an uncanny feeling of being totemic, spiritually infused, or filled with mystical potential. This and other similar works were recently shown in a solo exhibition at Museomático, in Cuenca, Ecuador, titled Los huesos del universo.

Leandro Pasantes, Interminencia IV & Interminencia I, 2021. Acrylic on canvas paper 50 x 40cm.

The use of materials such as wood, shells, bones, and animal fat are also telling of the artist’s immersion in and deep engagement with the occult. Interested in tapping into other forms of consciousness, Leandro’s works become a portal into other dimensions. Through them, signs, symbols, and private languages emerge to give meaning to altered states of perception of the natural world that surrounds us. Symptomatic of modernity and western science’s disenchantment, Leandro’s work is not just about the mystical and the occult as means to knowledge but also speaks to the healing capacity of objects in nature. Here, however, healing does not only refer to the soothing of a physical wound or trauma, but the repair of lost forms of relatedness with the world. In other words still, his works address the much-needed return of the spiritual body to earth.

During his residency at Delfina Foundation in early 2023, his first trip to Europe, Leandro tells me he plans to consult libraries and archives related to the unveiling of the mystical, the occult, and the divine to better understand how art can re-enchant a world in crisis. Through his multimedia practice that spans paintings, sculptures, assemblages, photography, and installation art, Leandro proposes, through a unique visual language that rejects Modernity’s inorganic materialism, a connection to a realm beyond reason.

Sara Garzón (Colombia) is a curator and writer based in New York City. She has a PhD in Art History from Cornell University and specialises in contemporary Latin American Art, Indigenous eco-criticism, decolonial theory and practice, and temporality. Sara was a curator-in-residence at Delfina Foundation in Autumn 2020.

Leandro Pesantes (Ecuador) is a Delfina Foundation winter 2023 artist-in-residence, supported by EACHEVE and Artus Ecuador.