Hearing voices

Voces Latinas: Works on Paper from 1921-present

In a segment of her painting, Camille Rose Garcia asks “Who’s Afraid of the Peppermint Man?” We are.

In a segment of her painting, Camille Rose Garcia asks “Who’s Afraid of the Peppermint Man?” We are.

It may be a tad old-fashioned to group an art exhibit based on any particular culture or ethnic group. It seems presumptuous to choose a few pieces of artwork and say, “This is (X culture)‘s art.”

That’s why it’s important to note the title of the Latin American exhibit now showing at the Nevada Museum of Art: It’s not Voz Latina, but Voces Latinas. Plural.

Voces Latinas: Works on Paper from 1921-present represents a wide range of Latino artistic styles, cultures and issues. Curator Ann Wolfe, in selecting these works, is well aware that Latin America is made of many countries, with thousands of subcultures and millions of viewpoints.

“It’s impossible to define the single Latino voice,” says Wolfe. “It’s impossible to tell the history of Latino art in one exhibit. … It’s not my place to define what’s considered Latino art. It’s my place to encourage that dialogue within the community.”

Among the 17 artists represented in the exhibit are those who use art as politics, those who adamantly do not use art as politics, realists, magical realists, modernists, abstractionists, traditionalists and pop surrealists. There is work from Mexicans, Cubans, Chileans, Californians and Texans. There is not one, unified voice. Some don’t even want to be considered as “Latino artists” but simply as artists.

“I don’t think of myself as just Mexican,” said oil painter Tino Rodriguez, creator of “Unravel”, during an Art Bite lecture at the museum in November. “I’m influenced by art from all over the world.”

Among his inspirations for his highly imaginative paintings, which focus on creation, identity and nature, were Victorian artists for their ability to create fantastical, beautiful artwork during ugly, materialistic times.

Voces begins with traditional works and classic images of Mexican art, from an early Diego Rivera print of peasant culture to a Jose Chavez Morado image of slumbering Mexicans in sombreros after a long day of work.

Then the exhibit transitions into edgier visuals that summon Latino murals and street art. There is Luis Cruz Azaceta’s “The Scream”, an in-your-face take on Edvard Munch’s famous work. Gustavo Ramos Rivera’s “Untitled 29” is a highly personal, abstract piece, while Frank Romero’s “History of the Chicano Movement” is social and political, with overlapping storylines of labor strikes, Chicano car culture, religion and music spread on a mural-like canvas.

The final grouping, which includes Rodriguez’s piece, moves on to paintings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez-like magical realism seen, rather than read, in vibrant color with moths, fairies, animal-human hybrids and flowers.

The final print, “Who’s Afraid of the Peppermint Man?” by Camille Rose Garcia, is an example of the relatively new pop surrealist movement. Garcia, a common sight in Juxtapoz art magazine, was raised in the suburbs of Southern California near Disneyland. Her work shows a sinister reality beneath a candy-coated gooeyness, which, in the case of “Peppermint Man,” makes those who digest it sick. The painting shows the Peppermint Man—a Dr.Seuss/Willy Wonka figure gone spectacularly wicked. He deals with the problem of overpopulation by stirring up children in a boiling cauldron, baking them and serving them buffet-style to other children, who vomit pink goo.

The voices in this exhibit are different, to be sure, but they don’t drown each other out. The transition from classical images to more contemporary work is smooth, helping viewers notice the influences of the former on the latter and perhaps a direction for the future. But no clear-cut definitions arise here. Maybe that’s the point.