The balance and contrast between figuration and abstraction has always been a challenging point of departure and is precisely the sphere in which Christan Ruiz Berman realizes his imagery. His solo exhibition Superstring Variations, now on view at Martha’s Contemporary, comprises two bigger tondo pieces and a series of nine small-scale works in which the artist explores this confluence of different aesthetics and philosophies.

Drawing inspiration from histories of adaptation and migration with an avid interest in music and science, this blend of two seemingly excluding approaches is a result of Ruiz Berman’s affinity for experimentation and improvisation. “My painting practice is meditative in that it strives to dissect and understand the components of my experience and of my cultural and aesthetic legacy in a way that might give a greater understanding of the whole,” the Mexican-born artist expressed in his artist statement. Using the deeply personal symbols, architectures, and snippets of stories, he is aiming to build relatable connection points from which new personal narratives could be inspired. The intimate scale of the majority of these vibrant acrylics on panel is certainly adding to the precious and esoteric aura of these somewhat psychedelic images.

Ruiz Berman’s personal experiences in environmental conservation, forestry, public art, and education are all coming to light in his intricate compositions. Using the material qualities of the paint to create gradients and patterns full of enthusiasm and energy, he is regularly creating ambiguous spaces in which realistically rendered creatures and items are existing. “I am interested in the ways that these materials engage the viewer’s understanding of history, progress, and time,” the artist explains. “I am also interested in the ways that poetry and painting can act as catalysts for each other, and in the ways that the written word can guide an image and vice versa.” With the addition of textures, graphic elements, ornate details, as well as the portrayal of artifact-like objects, the artist is creating an allegory for alternative histories as well as a different way of understanding our reality. —Sasha Bogojev