If you go to Mexico, don’t forget to some of the smaller churches. They dot the neighborhoods and are among the most colorful and welcoming.
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I was at Lechón Illustrado recently looking at Samara Colina’s paintings with friend and artist, Catalina Gris. What I found most interesting was how the paintings worked on two levels. Up close, you could get lost in a fantastic abstract array of color patches.
Then, as you slowly move away, the image becomes more and more representational.
When the whole scene finally comes into focus, the sheer number of human figures represented is dizzying.
“Maybe,” I said to Cati, “maybe that’s what Kant meant by the mathematical sublime.” (Sidebar: I have more than once bantered my German friends that it takes a German like Kant to see mathematics as a sublime experience.) Anyway, Kant was talking about magnitude, but here it is literally a numeric overload; as you step back from the detail, the multitude is too great to fathom or even to be contained in the frame of the canvas. Even the spatula smears diagonally across the upper left and right warp the time-space curve into something larger than what the senses can grasp.
“No,” Cati said. “This isn’t it – the Kantian sublime.” Not that she didn’t like the painting, she just thought I was forcing in the theory. She was probably right. I always try a bit too hard to wrap my head around the mathematical sublime. (Kant’s power-based dynamical sublime is easier to grasp for me.)
“Maybe if the entire wall was covered,” Cati said.
“Yes,” I said, “That’s it.”
Whether representative of Kant’s mathematical sublime or not, it is a signature feature of Colina’s work (cp. the painting below, also at Lechón Illustrado).
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The art show at Foro Cultural 81 (81 Positos, Guanajuato) featured two artists. Cati Gris’s main body of work centered on shades and variations of texture and line and shape – the geometrical building blocks of visual reality. These abstract geometrical compositions, however, are typically enmeshed in organic, textile materials.
But something more. Also a sense of palimpsest layered in earth colors, more cool than warm, subdued, a sense of hidden details, hidden bytes and bits of information, patterns lying almost unconsciously beneath the visual surface and requiring a close-in look (“Catedral el llama desde internet”).
A few of Gris’s works leaned in along the gradient from the abstract toward the representational, without giving too much on the representations side. The jittery electronic universe that almost comes into focus in “Dispositivo para presenter colores básicos” struck me as such, as did the archetypal figures emerging in silhouette from the geometry of “Chalchiuhtlicue”.
Phe Ruiz had two rooms in the exhibit with clearly demarcated themes – one room striking for its texture, one striking for its color.
The second room was full of bold colors with a childlike quality, albeit one haunted, in both style and affect, by the empty spaces of faces. The human-like figures were sometimes cast into elemental environments, either in nature (“El pino”) or in a stylized domestic set, e.g. in “El Mesero,” where we get a solitary figure learning to balance in a rudimentary social space.
Sometimes, the same figures found themselves wandering aimlessly in a more abstract setting, the child-appeal of the bold colors offset by the existentialist undertones of face and posture.
Finally, the venue itself at 81 Positos was elegant and well-lit, and did its part to highlight the power and peculiarities of the works included. And if you were lucky enough to be there on opening night, Alonso’s sangria wasn’t bad either.
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Review of the exhibition, Entre Fusiones, by Celes Orozco, Cuarto Cresciente Galeria (https://www.facebook.com/CuartoCrecienteGaleria/). Guanajuato, Mexico: May 3-June 13, 2019.
Reviewed by Gary Gautier
The relationship between art and reality has percolated through the history of ideas since Plato (well, probably since the cave paintings of Lascaux, but I can’t vouch for anything before Plato). Some bright-eyed theorists identify four angles: (1) mimetic (art imitates reality), (2) affective (art may or may not mimic reality, but the value lies in how it affects its viewers), (3) expressive (art projects the subjective experience of the artist into objective form), and (4) objective (art builds value through its internal design and composition, irrespective of how it may or may not correspond to the minds of artist or audience or to physical reality).
Each of these angles is to some extent at play in Celes Orozco’s exhibition, Entre Fusiones, at Cuarto Cresciente Galeria. The collection strikes immediately, visually, at the question of art’s relationship to reality, but it does so through different styles. The first style I might call “the cosmic flux.” It is abstract, but not in the manner of Joan Miró’s abstract geometrical lines or Mark Rothko’s solid color zones. Miró and Rothko are working with the abstract building blocks of line and color, but Orozco’s works seem more concrete.
Untitled 1 Untitled 2
These paintings, although they do not depict anything in particular, project, more than Miró or Rothko, some concrete, almost totalizing view of reality as a swirling potentiality of form and color. This is the primal flux that undergirds the reality of discrete objects as we know it. The strokes, too, as Orozco variously applies paint to the canvas with finger or hand as well as brush, suggest something concrete and organic, but still in potential form. The only narrowing of potential that I see comes in some of the color choices, as in Untitled 2 the sunburnt coloring conjures up (for me at least) the Mexican roots of the artist, which we see in patches or hints as we move through the exhibition.
The Mexican roots appear more strongly in the second style. If the first style emphasized a primal cosmic flux, the second shades into representations of “primal culture.”
This painting, Chaos, overflows with the fundamentals of nature, with a close-in view of quasi-archetypal figures rather than on the Gestalt or expansiveness of the landscape (as we might see, e.g., in a Romantic-era European landscape). This, the masterpiece of the exhibit in my view, is not about the space of nature and culture from which we came, but about the things that populate that space. And rather than the gradient of space and color, light and shade, that you might get in Renaissance verisimilitude, here the arrangement is relatively flat, with bold colors, each figure presented in its full integrity. The presentation seems fundamentally native American, although my vocabulary is insufficient to expand upon why.
Finally, Orozco throws a few pop culture images onto the canvas – the bottle, the car, the McDonald’s balloon, the casino. It is difficult to say whether this encroachment by the artifacts of modern culture is a corruption of or an extension of the primitive layout. The bottle in the foreground and car at the center seem harmless enough. The casino atop the primitive pyramid seems a little sinister, but Orozco does not highlight the sinister. This is not the hellish 3rd panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Even the McDonald’s balloon is not accompanied by anything overtly negative. Perhaps Orozco just needed the pop culture items to show that the primitive space is not to be too idealized, not removed from time, is already flowing into the vicissitudes that come after.
Whether the second style, the “primal culture” style, encompasses the paintings below or spawns them as separate styles may be the viewer’s choice.
Protecting the infant is the clearest merging of the “cosmic flux” style with representational forms.
. Protecting the infant
Whereas Chaos had only a hint of the cosmic flux style in the brush strokes of the river, more than half the canvas here is covered in cosmic flux style. The represented images are fragmented, iconographic, not holistic scenarios as in Chaos. If there is a hybrid style in Orozco’s repertoire, this is its clearest expression.
El desierto, on the other hand, is holistic, but doesn’t strike the emotional register the same way as Chaos.
Chaos gave a sense of temporal projection across eons of time, reaching back to some primeval culture in the archetypes of nature. El desierto has more the sense of a contemporary psychedelic experience of space, not unlike the sense of space experienced by your correspondent on some of his hippie-era LSD trips, with the sky thick and close, not thin and distant, with the cacti that seem to sparkle, the long smooth flowing strokes of the land, the stones themselves flowing to show hidden figures that had always been there waiting to be made manifest by the ready viewer. Here, one could almost say it is the subjective effusion into the space and its objects that defines the experience. This to me is a style all its own – I’ll call it the “spatial flux” (or “psychedelic spaces”).
Finally, El niño y la serpiente expands the pop culture idea from the periphery of Chaos, gives it center stage, and takes it in a new direction.
El niño y la serpiente
This is the closest Orozco comes to the traditional surrealism of Salvador Dalí or to pop art collage style, depending on how you look at it. The scene is holistic and quite modern, and we suspect full of political and social symbols, unlike Chaos, in which any symbols with overt political weight were kept to the margins. In fact, there are only the vaguest traces of the cosmic flux or the primal culture here, although the relative flatness of the brush strokes and representation aligns it more with the primal culture style, and also gives it a mural-like effect that keeps Orozco’s eclectic work at least tenuously grounded in the cultural coordinates of Mexican art.
Detail from El niño y la serpiente
It is not for me but for you to determine how much of this response is my own idiosyncrasy and how much intrinsic to the compositional markings on the canvas. Either way, if it provides food for thought about this fine artist and this fine show, that will be enough done.
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Bonus picture (Soñando): a holistic scenario in the true “primal culture” style of Chaos, complete with archetypal Mesoamerican fauna and flora, the close view, the pressed bold color zones, and the sense (enhanced by the title idea, “Dreaming”) that we are moving through the field of what Carl Jung calls “the primitive roots of consciousness.”
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