Juan Uslé's work is associated with a return to abstact painting that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At a time when the idea of stylistic progress had been replaced by notions of pluralism, a number of painters revived the supposedly moribund abstract styles of earlier modernism, deploying them as a means to their own personal ends. Distancing themselves from the utopian or purely formalist notions associated with much modern abstraction, they used its language to explore a wide variety of experiences and ideas. With his paintings, Uslé creates autonomous spaces that reflect intellectual and emotional processes. The artist's initial work in the early 1980s was closer to Neo-Expressionism, but this changed when he left Spain to live in New York in 1986. The first paintings he made in the United States were small, dark, atmospheric seascapes, reminiscent of the coast of Cantabria, the region of Spain where the artist was born. By the early 1990s all figurative elements had disappeared, giving way to the creation of lyrical abstract paintings, more analytic and conceptual in nature though no less attentive to the finished form.
Uslé has tended to work in series. As its title suggests, I Dreamt that You Revealed XI (Congo) [Soñé que revelabas XI (Congo), 2002] is the eleventh in a series of paintings that the artist began in 1997. The series is characterized by horizontal bands of methodically repeated vertical brushstrokes of black paint; the individual brushstrokes or rows vary in tonality from light to dark, creating the sensation of slow or pulsating movement and ambiguous depths and transparencies. At times, small dots or stripes of color appear on the surface—as in the orange lines that run across the four darker bands in I Dreamt that You Revealed XI (Congo)—which further produce spatial tensions and endow each painting with its own unique character.
The mechanical repetition of the brushstrokes in the I Dreamt that You Revealed series clearly evinces a systematic, process-oriented approach. The brushstroke, moreover, is a visible trace of the body and its physical activity. At the same time, the effect of these works is highly meditative, as though they were oblong mandalas. For Uslé, black represents the erasure of memory—a group of earlier and related works in fact had the word amnesia in their titles—as well as the disappearance of light and images.