Born in La Plata, Argentina, in 1931, in 1956 he started taking painting and drawing lessons with Professor Jorge R. Mieri. Later, between 1957 and 1960 studied Vision with Professor Héctor Cartier at the School of Fine Arts, National University of La Plata. In these courses Professor Cartier taught color and form from the point of view of theory and praxis; he had ideated them based on Bauhaus texts translated from German by a priest friend of his. In 1958 he graduated as Master in Law at the same University. And in 1961 he attended a course on Aesthetics given by Professor Emilio Estiú at the Institute of Philosophy, also at the La Plata University.
In 1961, for the first time, he took part of a group show, the Salon Arte Nuevo. He showed a work strongly influenced by Tàpies' informel painting, that he had seen in a traveling exhibition of Spanish painting that had a great repercussion in Buenos Aires. He became a member of the informalist Grupo SÍ, a gathering of La Plata artists of that trend. The following year he started developing a painting that reflected his knowledge of the Pre-Columbian collection in the Museum of Natural Science of La Plata in which first appeared archaic geometric forms. He soon left behind that modality and by the mid sixties he fully embraced abstraction with paintings of highly saturated color and elemental geometric forms. Staccato, a painting from 1965, in which an "atonal" color is organized in concentric curvilinear bands, now belongs in the Collection of the MFA Boston. Later, and still keeping the intensity of color, he developed works in units composed by two or more parts of shaped canvases. One of these pieces, the dyptich Duino, from 1966, is now part of MoMA's collection. It was bought by Mr.Alfred Barr Jr., President of the Jury the 1966 Córdoba Biennial in Argentina, where he was awared a First Prize.
In 1967 moves to New York with his family, stirred up by the growin gappreciation of his work in that art capital. At the beginning of 1969 he decided to paint only on the side edges of the painting, leaving the frontal surface blank. As he literally shifted the accent of the painted notations to the limits of the canvas, he had formulated an unprecedented vision of modern painting. If actually propitiated at that moment by the reductivist climate created by the minimalist sculpture, at the same time, it implied a fierce rejection to the generalized belief among the minimalist theorists (mainly Donald Judd) that "sculpture was more powerful than painting." Instead, Paternosto was (critically) returning to easel painting, that cultural artifact exclusive to the West, yet inviting the viewer to read it in a non-frontal, sideways and ambulatory manner: he/she had to walk from one side of the painting to the other, in order to absorb the totality of the painting. In January 1970 he exhibited these works at the AM Sachs Gallery in New York, under the title The Oblique Vision, and later at the Galerie Denise René (Düsseldorf, 1972: New York, 1973 and 1976; París, 1974 and lately, in 2015). A work from this period, The Hidden Order, from 1972, has enteredthe MoMA's collection as part of the donation made by the Collection Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in 2018. It was later shown in Sur moderno: Journeys of Abstraction, one of the several exhibitions that celebrated MoMA's reopening in 2019.
In 1977 Paternosto traveled to the Andean region (north of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru) and his encounter with the sculptural works of the Inca period of an unexpected 'abstract' persuasion had a great influence on his work.The tectonics of Temple of the Sun in Ollantaytambo (Cuzco, Peru) became a decisive inspiration for his painting of the following years. Strengthened by his discovery of the symbolic sense that color acquired in ancient cultures he restricted himself to a monochromatic range of earth and gray pigments, the sandy grays of the landscape. Besides, he sarted to consistently use a square format canvas (of mandala lineage) vertically halving it and adding marble powder to one of the areas. Even though of strictly pictorial nature, this practice created a metaphorical reference to the spellbinding subtlety with which the massive monoliths that compose the Temple have been adjoined. He exhibited a group of these works in a partial retrospective celebrated at the Americas Society (New York, 1981) and the following year in a solo show at the Fuji Television Gallery (Tokyo, 1982).
The Portico series, executed throughout the 90s display structured canvases with rectangular openings that refer to the "sun gates" from the Andes as well as the ones from ancient Greece, suggesting the passage from the sacred to the profane space.
Early in 2002, he begins the Marginality and Displacements group of works: black stripes on a white background. The thin bands stick to the perimeter of the canvas, occasionally breaking off and reappearing on the sides of the canvas. In other words, another way to materialize his original ambition that the painting was read as a whole object—something that years later was going to present as the "integral vision of painting." When Paternosto used to empty up the frontal surface of his painting, he was forcing the viewer to search for the depicted matter only on the side edges. Now there is a (minimal) frontal image; yet the beholder that overcomes the conventional frontal stance will be gratified: what is painted on the sides amplifies the image.
As he added red bands to the original black and white scheme an immediate, though superficial similitude to a Mondrian or a Malevich came up; however, this triad had a more significant connotation. In Color and Meaning: Art, Science and Symbolism, John Gage points out: "Red, yellow and blue are not, of course the only 'primary' triad, or even the most privileged one. The much older and universal set, black, white and red, has recently come into prominence again in anthropological studies of language, chiefly in connection with evolution of non-European cultures, where the earliest color-categories where those of light and dark, followed almost universally by a term for 'red'." A demonstration of how the abstract practice led to the encounter with the other.
As a matter of fact, Paternosto believes that 'geometric abstraction' is a synthesis that he names the irruption of the other. For, even if we know that abstraction is a deliberate development of the Cubist grid (Mondrian, Malevich), how could we forget the reception of African tribal sculpture that occurs at the inception of Cubism?
The irruption of the other points out to the abstract geometric forms that evolved in the arts foreign to the Western tradition and that long antedated the modern version, which, in any event, is a late appearance in the global history of art. In order to grasp this we have to do away with the dominant hierarchical discourse "art/ornament" because such dichotomy has for ages obscured the perception of ornament's rightful nature, that is, the central art of non-European cultures, or of the pre-modern West. In this sense, the textile paradigm, that is the othogonal geometric matrix inherent to the weaving structure is of fundamental importance in the re-cognition process of these archaic forms. In other words, long before the emergence of the Eurocentric post-Reanissance fine arts model—centered on representational easel painting—textiles had and indisputable ascendant on the generation of planar geometricizing art forms. An art practice which, remarkably —and not always remembered— was virtually born in the mind and hands of women.
In 2017, Paternosto opened Hacia una pintura objetual (Towards Painting as Object) in the Balcony Gallery of the Museo Nacional Thyssen Bornemisza, in Madrid. The invited artist has to select works from the Museum collection in order to establish a dialogue or a co-relationship with his/her own work. He chooses a drawing by Juan Gris, Bodegón (StillLife) from 1913; a Cubist oil by Picasso, Hombre con clarinete (Man with Clarinet), 1911-12; the three works by Mondrian in the collection: a Cubist one from 1913; Composición de colores/Composición No.1 con rojo y azul, (Composition with Colors. Composition Nº 1 with Red and Blue) from 1931 and one unfinished painting, New York City from 1941, as well as cut-out wood piece by Joaquín Torres-García, Madera planos de color de 1929. His works belong to the "lateral vision" period of the 1970s, such as Sagitarious, from 1972; multi panel works from 1972 and 1974, besides the Hilos de agua. Intervals (Grid 2), de 1997, lent by the Baroness Thyssen Bornemisza's collection. Outside the gallery, near the annoucements hang Trio # 24 and Red Trio # 6, both from 2015.
The catalog, with introductory words by the Director of the Museum, Guillermo Solana, publishes his essay "Towards Painting as Object" in which he studies the evolution of painting as it leaves behind the illusionist screen and asserts its physical objectivity. An extreme conception which, nevertheless, preserves its essential nature. On the other hand, such evolution appeared to answer Kandinskys angst when, at the door of abstraction, he questioned himself: "What was to replace the missing object?"
Ever since 1969, the moment in which Paternosto carried over the accent of the depicted matter to the side edges of the canvas –or even further back to the sixties when he was involved with his shaped canvases— a major constant in his work has been his concern over the format or structure of the pictorial support. A consistent invitation to the viewer to read the painting in its total physicality, well beyond the traditional frontal screen of easel painting.
More recently, having as long precedent Fontana's work, or his own Porticoes of the 1990s, he has produced apertures on the pictorial plane: not only he bestowed an ambiguous dimension to it, but also the planes that project as flaps refer to its immediate predecessor, his Paper Constructions, initiated in 2014. Yet, the persistent color notes go on anchoring these hybrid objects to the painting experience.
This proposal led Paternosto to expand the primordial horizontal feature of the Inca sculpture that he had researched and that had already influenced his corten steel sculpture—the Tectonic Investigations. Now, those (hybrid) painted objects are settled on the ground, as in the work Tectonic Continuity from 2019, in the Collection of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires.
In 2018, the Director of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Architect Andrés Duprat invited Paternosto to realize a site-specific work for one of the Museum galleries. Later on it was decided to exhibit works belonging to Buenos Aires public and private collections in order to contextualize that work thus offering a more comprehensive—though not exhaustive—view of his long career. The exhibition César Paernosto:The Eccentric Gaze, opened in October 2019. They were exhibited works from the 1960s, the shaped canvases of highly saturated colors in which he had already explored unusual physical formats. Which, in fact, anticipated the work done later in New York, his break away "lateral vision of painting."
A "laterality" that today is being read as the beginning of the "ec-centricity", the distancing from the physical center: the frontal screen of all Western painting with its inevitable hegemonic connotation. A distancing that later materialized on his affirmation and recovery of the forgotten arts of ancient America.
Pictorial Deconstruction was the title of the site specific work
Paternosto conceived for the gallery at the Museo Nacional. The space is virtually a cube, an ideal form that results from the stereometric projection of the square, the canvas format on which he has been working almost exclusively. The cubic inner space of the gallery is articulated by means of partitions 4 inches thick of differing heights, painted white on white and over which the color notations of his painting are developed: bands and planes of yellow, cadmium red light and black. A deconstruction of a painting which, by opening up in space invites to be walked around, 'lived in' for a moment.