Restrictions, Limitations, Confinementsby Dan Tarnowski
CASITA MARIA CENTER FOR ARTS AND EDUCATION
APRIL 5 – MAY 25, 2012
For this group exhibition at the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, artist and curator Felix Morelo invited local Bronx artists to explore the themes of restriction, limitation, and confinement. Including a total of 20 artists, the exhibition is sprawling, filling a large room on the sixth floor of the school.
Morelo’s own artwork is mixed in with the other contributions, and his phenomenal use of color is a major connecting element throughout the show. Morelo’s drawings and sculptures are filled with vibrant purples, teals, and pinks, which recall traditional Mexican and South American art while remaining contemporary in aesthetic. His sketchy drawing style is distinctive and encompasses a wide range of imagery, including neighborhoods full of people, aboriginals, aliens, eyes, and faces. The vibrant characters and patterns fill the room with a kaleidoscope of color.
A common structural motif in Morelo’s work is the box or cube. In a painting that was also used for the exhibition’s promotional flyer, a human figure with its chest decorated in colored brushstrokes is surrounded by a crowd of floating faces. The figure stands inside a box and is collared by an abstract shape—a musical instrument, an animal, or a hand. While a sense of confinement is created by the faces that closely circle the human, as well as by the bounding walls of the box, the figure doesn’t seem completely trapped. Despite the somewhat sinister limitations placed upon this character, the bright colors of the painting adjust the tone of the piece toward the uplifting and the playful.
A sense of play is also expressed in Morelo’s sculptural piece “2 Heads,” a small cardboard box with a door cut into the front. A brightly colored face is painted across the door, which is ajar and through which another head can be seen, this one sculpted from a stuffed bag of cloth also painted with a face. The depth and interiority of the piece suggest the artist’s break with the traditional limitations of two-dimensionality. Similarly free from restriction is “wood cube sculpture 1” (2012), a solid block of wood decorated with patterns and characters resembling Technicolor versions of Keith Haring’s drawings. Here, the paintings on the surfaces of the box add levity to its hard exterior. As a physical box, this piece engages in an interesting conversation with Morelo’s drawn illustrations of people confined within boxes.
Other artists in the show take the theme of restriction in numerous directions. Hiroko Ishikawa, for example, explores human psychology with the sculpture “Self-Containment.” In this unique piece, Ishikawa has placed a glass jar painted with disembodied facial features within a larger glass jar, also painted with facial features spread further apart. Across the back of the latter jar a background is painted of vertical black bars, like those of a jail cell. The piece creates the effect of a face spreading outwards, the transparency of the glass alluding to freedom while the rigidity of the glass suggests an invisible boundary.
The introspective tone of the exhibition is continued in the etchings of Itzy Ramirez, in which thin, wispy lines compose ephemeral and dreamlike quasi-landscapes. In “Untitled I” (2009), a lamp and part of a tree appear alongside an abstract shape that resembles an octopus. These forms float in space, juxtaposed with the hard edge of a building that appears beside the objects. The building is filled with scribbled lines, which impart a sense of chaos, separating this dense architectural form in tone from the peacefully floating objects. Like Morelo’s and Ishikawa’s work, Ramirez’s etching conjures themes of freedom and weightlessness, even while in the presence of limitation.
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