White Room: Julius Caesar Bustamante

January 12–March 6, 2021 West Gallery

Press Release

White Columns is pleased to present a posthumous survey of drawings by Julius Caesar Bustamante (1957-2013.) This is the first solo exhibition dedicated to his work. Born in Curaçao (formerly a part of the Dutch Antilles) and raised in East Harlem, New York, Bustamante was a member of the Arawak / Carib nation. Bustamante served in an airborne battalion of the US Army between 1976 and 1983 and served in two theaters of engagement. Bustamante was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2000, and started to draw shortly thereafter. Self-taught as an artist Bustamante described his art making as a cathartic process that helped to soothe his “state of mind.” Between 2005 and 2013 he was affiliated with the pioneering art studios at New York’s H.A.I. (Healing Arts Initiative.) H.A.I. was a forward-thinking nonprofit organization founded in 1970 with a mission to “inspire healing, growth and learning through engagement in the arts for the culturally underserved … whose access to the arts have been limited by health, age or income.”

Bustamante was a prolific artist and would often complete three 24” x 19” drawings during a single session at H.A.I.’s studios. During his time working at H.A.I. it is estimated that Bustamante produced as many as 1,000 drawings, of which some 200 remain in the organization’s archives – and from which this exhibition has been selected. Widely traveled, Bustamante was interested in how the histories of ancient civilizations both inform and reverberate in the present. (His artist page on H.A.I.’s website includes the statement: “We must be mindful of history or [be] doomed to repeat it.”) Writing about Bustamante’s process Quimetta Perle, an artist and former H.A.I. staff member, has said: “Julius was very proud of his heritage and featured flora, fauna and mythical imagery from the Caribbean and Central and South America in his work. He did a lot of research from books and other reference sources, he was voracious about finding imagery of plants, animals and historical cultural traditions from around the world to incorporate in his work.”

Bustamante’s drawings, almost exclusively in pastel, incorporate overlapping and overlayered images of the natural world – animals, fauna and flora etc. – that are juxtaposed with fragments of architectural structures drawn from both history and memory. Bustamante’s art does not describe a singular specific place, rather it presents us with a disorientating collision of distinct cultural markers and referents, establishing in turn a profoundly complex aesthetic realm – a visual world – entirely of his own creation. It is this ‘visionary’ aspect of Bustamante’s approach that aligns his extraordinary art with that of now established ‘outliers’ such as Henri Rousseau, Martín Ramírez, and Joseph Elmer Yoakum among other autonomous and idiosyncratic voices.

Julius Caesar Bustamante (1957-2013.) Bustamante’s work was presented by H.A.I. at the Outsider Art Fair, New York in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He had a two-artist exhibition at H.A.I.’s gallery in 2011 (with Irene Phillips); his work was included in a 2009 group exhibition at the Noyes Art Museum, Oceanville, NJ, and in the 2019 exhibition “Healing Arts!” at White Columns, New York.

About H.A.I.: Founded in 1970 and originally known as Hospital Audiences Inc., H.A.I.’s mission was to “inspire healing, growth and learning through engagement in the arts for the culturally underserved in the New York City community … whose access to the arts have been limited by health, age or income.” H.A.I. was dissolved in 2016 after a series of tragic events forced the organization into bankruptcy. White Columns was instrumental in helping to preserve the organizations’ four-decade-plus archive of art produced under H.A.I.’s auspices: an unprecedented and historically significant collection of several thousand individual art works, including approx. 200 drawings by Julius Caesar Bustamante.

White Columns has collaborated extensively with H.A.I. in the recent past including staging widely- acknowledged solo exhibitions by H.A.I.-affiliated artists Derrick Alexis Coard, Lady Shalimar Montague, Rocco Fama and Ray Hamilton. In 2019 we presented “Healing Arts!” an exhibition drawn from H.A.I.’s archives that featured the work of twenty-four artists previously affiliated with H.A.I. These exhibitions were a part of White Columns now 15-year-plus – and ongoing – commitment to supporting the work of artists living and working with disabilities.

We would like to thank Quimetta Perle and all of the former H.A.I. staff for their enthusiastic support and assistance with this and previous exhibitions and presentations of H.A.I.’s artists. We would also like to acknowledge Jay Gorney for making the original introduction between White Columns and H.A.I.

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Several colorful and dense pastel drawings installed on light gray walls: on the wall to the left are many drawings of the same size in a grid of three by eight, on the back wall is single drawing installed in the center, and on the wall to the right are two larger drawings.  All the drawings utilize similar palettes of bright, poppy colors, and depict fantastical natural scenes through overlapping images of the natural world, architectural structures, and cultural references, often with themes of Mesoamerican culture in cartoonish renderings.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Thirty six drawings, all the same size and portrait orientation, installed on the left wall in three by twelve grid. A single drawing is installed in the center of the back right wall.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Three drawings installed: one smaller work alone on the back wall and two larger works on the right wall.  The drawing on the back wall depicts a four legged mythical dog like creature with wings, surrounded by a dense and lively scene of plants, flowers, birds and creatures, with a temple like structure in the background under a bright blue sky and yellow sun. The next drawing, one of the larger pair, depicts masked faces immersed in a dense jungle of bright colored flowers, bamboo, leaves, animals, fish and patterns. A light blue and orange pyramid topped with a red sun is in the background to the right. The last drawing depicts a mask-like face in the center, enveloped by a wild , energetic scene of staircases, fauna, and various mythical and real animals including a tiger, unicorn, and dragons, all brightly colored.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (A frontal view of the two large drawings installed on a gray wall. The left drawing depicts masked faces immersed in a dense jungle of bright colored flowers, bamboo, leaves, animals, fish and patterns. A light blue and orange pyramid topped with a red sun is in the background to the right. The drawing to the right depicts a mask-like face in the center, enveloped by a wild , energetic scene of staircases, fauna, and various mythical and real animals including a tiger, unicorn, and dragons, all brightly colored.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Thirty six drawings installed on a gray wall in a uniform three by twelve grid.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (A cropped view of the thirty six drawings installed on a grey wall in a uniform three by seven grid.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante Aqua Ebony, n.d. Pastel on paper 24 x 19 in. (A dense drawing of a mix of organic and geometric shapes and patterns interspersed with depictions of animals, fish, plants, masks, and a woman’s figure. There is a grey masked face on the bottom, a woman’s figure in profile on the top right in front of a gold brick pattern.)
Julius Caesar Bustamante Untitled, n.d. Pastel on paper 24 x 19 in. (A drawing depicting a smiling dark blue cat with light blue spots laying in the middle of a jungle, surrounded by red, pink and orange flowers, bamboo, and green foliage with various playful patterns and shapes in the background.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Several colorful and dense pastel drawings installed on light gray walls: on the wall to the left are many drawings of the same size in a grid of three by eight, on the back wall is single drawing installed in the center, and on the wall to the right are two larger drawings.  All the drawings utilize similar palettes of bright, poppy colors, and depict fantastical natural scenes through overlapping images of the natural world, architectural structures, and cultural references, often with themes of Mesoamerican culture in cartoonish renderings.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Thirty six drawings, all the same size and portrait orientation, installed on the left wall in three by twelve grid. A single drawing is installed in the center of the back right wall.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Three drawings installed: one smaller work alone on the back wall and two larger works on the right wall.  The drawing on the back wall depicts a four legged mythical dog like creature with wings, surrounded by a dense and lively scene of plants, flowers, birds and creatures, with a temple like structure in the background under a bright blue sky and yellow sun. The next drawing, one of the larger pair, depicts masked faces immersed in dense jungle of bright colored flowers, bamboo, leaves, animals, fish and patterns. A light blue and orange pyramid topped with a red sun is in the background to the right. The last drawing depicts a mask-like face in the center, enveloped by a wild, energetic scene of staircases, fauna, and various mythical and real animals including a tiger, unicorn, and dragons, all brightly colored.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (A frontal view of the two large drawings installed on a gray wall. The left drawing depicts masked faces immersed in a dense jungle of bright colored flowers, bamboo, leaves, animals, fish and patterns. A light blue and orange pyramid topped with a red sun is in the background to the right. The drawing to the right depicts a mask-like face in the center, enveloped by a wild , energetic scene of staircases, fauna, and various mythical and real animals including a tiger, unicorn, and dragons, all brightly colored.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (Thirty six drawings installed on a gray wall in a uniform three by twelve grid.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante, installation view, 2021 (A cropped view of the thirty six drawings installed on a grey wall in a uniform three by seven grid.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante Aqua Ebony, n.d. Pastel on paper 24 × 19 in. (A dense drawing of a mix of organic and geometric shapes and patterns interspersed with depictions of animals, fish, plants, masks, and a woman’s figure. There is a grey masked face on the bottom, a woman’s figure in profile on the top right in front of a gold brick pattern.)

Julius Caesar Bustamante Untitled, n.d. Pastel on paper 24 × 19 in. (A drawing depicting a smiling dark blue cat with light blue spots laying in the middle of a jungle, surrounded by red, pink and orange flowers, bamboo, and green foliage with various playful patterns and shapes in the background.)