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Abstracto/Latino: Latin American with an Abstract Fusion presents captivating works of abstraction created by local North Carolina Latinx artists at the Block Gallery in the Raleigh Municipal Building. The title of the exhibition is inspired by the Chino/Latino restaurants in New York City that challenge the cultural expectations of immigrants by combining different international influences in their cuisine. While all seven artists featured in the exhibition pursue different styles of abstraction, the composite of their work curated by guest curator Georges Le Chevallier examines and challenges the notion that in the United States, Latin American Art is only rooted in and solely engages with Magical Realism, politics, and regionalism. These artists harness individuality in their explorations of various forms of abstraction and diverse abstract art movements including North American Abstract Expressionism, French Cubism, Russian Constructivism, and Japanese Shibui. Despite their different styles, the artists stay true to and exhibit their Latin American roots to dispute the expectations of what Latin American Art can be in the United States. The exhibition is convincing in its demonstration and provision of evidence that Latinx Art in the United States does not only have to be mystical; Latinx Art is intellectual, melding international influences together and modifying the narrative of Latinx immigrants.
In the lobby of the building, the vinyl exhibition text precedes the artwork and a table holds the gallery guides. Large wood panels by Mario Marzán, Laguna no.1 (2017) and Laguna no.2 (2017), are the first pieces to capture the viewer's attention with their juxtaposition of solid color and negative space. Detailed in some places and filled with single contour lines in others, Marzán's art features beautiful stencil work. Each canvas sucked me into a new world, one that was fragmented yet flowing, and unveiled new elements with each glance – it was hard for me to walk away. Geometric abstractions are paired with the beauty and silhouette of the natural world to explore the evolving relationship between geological spaces and identity. With the wide use of negative space, perhaps one's individual and cultural identity is constantly searching for something new in a new place.
Peter Marin's abstract paintings are marked by strong, saturated colors, bright in hue, applied meticulously. The thick application of paint raised up higher with each layer is reminiscent of a collage rather than only acrylic paint, strengthening the perception of the shapes as forms of architecture. His use of color covering the canvas in geometric forms, particularly in La Piramide y el Tiempo (2021), suggests a conversation between different sections of the composition. Color is a language we can all perceive and find a relation to, no matter our individual or cultural identity. I felt that when staring between Marin’s blocks of color and unbelievably straight lines, I was peering into a landscape that blends what is up and what is down to become a place where one can just be.
Venturing upstairs, natural light gleams in through the building's large windows, casting cool shadows on Lope Max Diaz's intriguing three-dimensional mixed media creations. Aligned in a horizontal row, five pieces from his 2016 Rendija na'ma series are striking in their difference from the other artists' work. Diaz’s pieces had a strong grip on me; they puzzled my mind, making my thoughts churn. Settled into deep frames with two small canvases in each, attention is drawn to the three-dimensional elements protruding outwards and the split opening below them. It seemed to me that by breaking through the canvased surface, these large elements with even larger personalities caused the fissures. The bright, emotive, and thought-provoking abstract forms entering into the matted canvas space make the pieces interesting and beautiful. The concept of seeming out of place is expressed through color, but rather than communicating a strictly negative connotation, the compositions are bright and colorful.
Nora Phillips' mixed media works on paper are lively and intricate. The artist's energetic application of ink contrasts the delicately sewn threads stitching layers together. Moving from frame to frame, I found myself getting closer and closer (though not touching!) in an effort to glimpse the finite details of her stitched threads. The experimental quality of the number-titled series with mediums overlapping and color blending suggests a dive into different forms of self-expression. Each piece shines on its own with unique ink movements and fabric materials, but when I stepped back to view them all together, the stitching became a part of the papers and interconnected each part into a whole.
Natacha Sochat's abstract paintings are full of energy and vivid color, and with a restricted color palette, the artist leads our focus to the outlined shapes. The canvases create environments for the issues Sochat tackles, and when defined in simple shapes, they take root and are quickly communicated. In her work With the Bees Gone Man Will Survive (2021), I did not have to look far to see Sochat's message on the changes to our climate and how the bees are dying. Just as the form in the center overtakes the composition, forcing itself into view, Sochat's canvases illuminate these international issues clearly, free of concealment.
The abstract expressionist canvases and wood board of Fabrizio Bianchi are full of amorphous shapes and textured brushstrokes, inviting the viewer into what seems like a new landscape or even a separate reality. Beyond the Nine Ravens (2021) was particularly compelling with a pulsating rhythm and lines that reminded me of clock gears. I imagined the lines beginning to move on the board, creating a trance. There is a beautiful form of chaos underlying Bianchi's work, but the perceived disarray was rather captivating at second glance, even calming. This suggests that there is more below the surface, linking what is originally seen and what is not.
Le Chevallier's three tall canvases present visual representations symbolizing specific food dishes from various cultures. I envisioned Le Chevallier creating these pieces while indulging in some bites of the fine food himself. Some materials are natural paints, but others are inks made from food ingredients including coffee beans and matcha green tea. His paintings reflect the way in which certain cuisines are connected to racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation. Le Chevallier's work illustrates these stereotypes often directed towards immigrants, and I was inspired to consider multiculturism and ponder cultural stereotypes I have witnessed in food, art, and more.
All the works displayed in the exhibition break out of the box of traditionally understood and over-simplified Latin American Art. Moving through the gallery space, I saw the shattering of the idea that Latin American artwork is strictly based in Magical Realism. The seven talented North Carolina artists featured in Abstracto/Latino: Latin American with an Abstract Fusion successfully challenged expectations with their art, and, to me, indicated the significance of Latin American Art in our local and national communities. Through this important exhibition, the over-simplified idea of Latinx Art is repressed and the true, remarkable, and undefinable concept of Latinx Art is defended.
Abstracto/Latino: Latin American with an Abstract Fusion is on view at the Block Gallery in the Raleigh Municipal Building and online through Friday, January 21. The artist reception scheduled for Friday, January 7 has been cancelled due to latest elevation in Covid numbers. Artworks in this exhibition are for sale, for details contact Stacy Bloom Rexrode at the Office of Raleigh Arts. For more details on this exhibition, please view the sidebar.