The People are Beautiful
Mash Gallery, Los Angeles
through August 1
Written by Genie Davis
We may be social distancing IRL, but on the walls of the spacious and airy MASH Gallery (open by appointment; 3D Gallery also available online), the works of artists Jodi Bonassi, Albert Alvarez, and José Lozano, curated by David S. Rubin, are packed with people.
Whether magical and hopeful or dark and dystopian, the three artists’ work converges in a rainbow of people, many in large groups and vibrant colors. Each of the paintings feels vivid and immediate.
Bonassi’s work has always been packed with images. People, animals, and magical figures converge on virtually every inch of her powerful canvasses. Of her work here, she notes “The past 6 months I have been creating paintings about the apocalyptic nature of our times and new beginnings.” The result is richly rewarding mysterious fairy tales that are grounded by realistic portrayals of people in varied urban locations.
While most of her works are filled with color, one of the more monochromatic is perhaps my favorite of all the fully satisfying work she exhibits here. “Bird on the Metro” gives the viewer a silvery-grey focal point of bird and magical totemic figure. The contrast with the other colorful people on the metro is visually haunting.
Also dramatically intense is “Triplicity.” Using a model who performs with the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, Bonassi captures a tumult of motion. She describes the work as a part of her series about the end of the world, an end that is not entirely bleak. “There is renewed hope in the few left.” It’s a wildly lush and fiercely poignant work that captivates viewers, pulling them into a visual story akin to a James Michener novel; a complex tapestry of stories woven together in one epic piece. Despite their elegiac quality, Bonassi’s view of mankind and its survival is spun from hope.
Alvarez offers a more biting look at the state of the world and a more satiric view of the end times. Equally powerful in its storytelling, his work has a definite chaos “after the fall” view; there is less hope than in Bonassi’s work, although his wide cornucopia of characters is equally compelling to explore. It is a dance of frenzy in “Blue Boy Rides Again,” a threatening scene nonetheless expressive of the excitement of the party that is about to end. The piece makes for a fascinating pairing with “Triplicity.”
His “The Incredulity of Man” is equally devastating; all hell is breaking loose while one woman drinks a cup of tea. At least partially set in a classroom, “The Inferno” is a tortured experience of learning and lessons not well-taken; yet overall it is one of the more hopeful of Alvarez’ works – which may be stretching a point. There are a few that seem to be fighting an uphill battle of presenting knowledge here.
Alvarez challenges our view of human nature and takes us to the dark side, refusing to let us turn away. These are disturbing caricatures shaped into fables; a kind of American Horror Story on canvas of which he says “I see these kinds of dystopian narratives all the time in television, movies, and video games…they entertain us while showing us how not to behave, hopefully encouraging us to become better people.”
Lozano’s work is less packed with people than that of Alvarez and Bonassi, in fact his works have some breathing room, with patterns between the men and women depicted, whether the pink and green and aqua shades of the egg-like cylinders in “Tamale Lady Wallpaper Swatch” or the triangular patterned stripe on the wall behind, and the balloons floating above, the figures in “Mother’s Day.” There is a quieter, more quietly contemplative feel to Lozano’s work that that of the other two artists. This fits with the idea that these depictions are tied to an expression of his culture, according to the artist. “I can’t say I’m speaking for Latinx culture, I’m speaking to the world through it. These are my generic existential Mexicans whom I’ve been trying to figure out, but have not been able to.”
All three artists deliver spectacular storytelling along with both subjects and compositions well-worth studying at length. Curator Rubin has done a terrific job of creating interaction between the painting, linking the exhibition through color and subject.
This is a fascinating exhibition about people: loving, hoping, expressing their histories, performing actions which may bring us to despair, dreaming of a better day.
In short: this is a crowded life as we knew it writ large: of cautionary tales, the heritage of wisdom, and fables for our future.