Modern Angelenos: Thoroughly Modern Art
by Genie Davis
Recently closed at The Montalban Theater, Modern Angelenos represents a tour de force of modern artwork as well as its place in representing social issues. This is not an easy subject to take on, but it succeeds here: combining work that is unique, cutting-edge, and socially conscious – as well as being pure Angeleno through and through. There’s the spirit of the street, a soaring cultural aesthetic, and the thoroughly modern idea that art, especially in today’s political realm, must say something.
Curated by Isabel Rojas-Williams and Baha Danesh, the exciting and visually beautiful group show featured the art of Victor Castillo, Pablo Cristi, Fabian Debora, Oscar Magallanes, Poli Marichal, Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernandez, Monica Orozco, Antonio Pelayo, Sandra Vista, Wenceslao Quirozand, and Sonia Romero.
With so many rich and politically charged artworks, it’s hard to know where to start. Poli Marichal’s works here glow with yellows and gold. They have the feel of icons, and the brightness of the LA sunshine. But within this reverential, affirming palette is something else altogether. In “Vagrant,” a work created from oil, graphite, sanguine, charcoal, and colored pencils over gesso, the artist adds the image of a vagrant’s cart, piled with belongings. Here, too, is a palm tree both stark yet resilient in black and white. Marichal notes that her “goal as an artist is to create suggestive and expressive works.” She seeks to reveal both “social, political and environmental concerns” as well as her more personal visions. It is not a coincidence that the image of the tree itself is so dominant and haunting. Macihal says “Tree-like and organic forms often populate my more personal works. Trees have a deep significance for me. They are symbols of our need to be rooted and safe but also of our desire to transcend our limitations and branch out into the cosmos.”
Sandra Vista’s lush textile sculptures dazzle with color and with the context of her mixed-media works. With a dried gourd as the base, Vista uses acrylic and beads to creates delightful sculpture that’s as rooted in the earth as it is celestial in form. How City of the Angeles is that?
Pablo Cristi’s “Untitled” work in acrylic, latex, and spray paint gives us the Lone Ranger at one end of the painting, and a man of color at the other end. The Ranger is armed, the other man is not. Both are positioned against an almost explosive rainbow-colored abstract background. Cristi says his work is “motivated by an active political awareness…steeped in a critical inquiry of power, representation and history.” His “paintings and sculptural objects…deconstruct and commingle urban visual vernaculars.” They also viscerally and compelling upend cultural clichés.
With an intense palette that deeply reflects and springs from a rich history of Chicano art, Boyle Heights-based Fabian Debora has created murals throughout East Los Angeles as well as shaping beautiful, vivid canvas art. Here, his work is vibrant and focused, shaping living breathing beings in passionate, powerful work that draws the eye even across the gallery floor. The artist says he conceptualizes and interprets his personal experiences and those of his community to effect change. These are slices of life, full-bodied people caught in the colorful amber of his brush.
Sonia Romero offers her own take on her Chicana roots and life in Los Angeles with bold, motion filled linocut images that dance off the walls. Known for printmaking, mixed media linocut prints, and public art, her bold dimensional style evokes a passionate form of Japanese woodblock.
Modern Angelenos offered a look at art that has the pulse of the city, the people of the city, and the socio-economic politics of the city firmly in its grasp. A strong show for a city made stronger itself through its art.