Spiritual Narratives

by Philip Brookman
Artweek September 24, 1982

The Aztec concept of the fifth sun represents a philosophy of time in which history is described in cycles, with their world as under four suns and the present era as under the fifth. This symbolism is embodied in much of Carrillo’s work. His paintings seem to hinge on the synthesis of spiritual thought and the soul in transition. Here, in the tradition of Flemish and Spanish art, as well as that of surrealism, the painter’s role is one of both interpretation and manifestation. In several paintings exhibited, including Arrival at Puerto Balandra(1975), La Luz y la Musica(1975), and Woman Holding a Serpent(1977), mystical arrangements of history and myth are woven together in a flattened, tapestry-like space where modeling, color and light are key elements in a precarious balance between the physicality of paint and the intangibility of spiritual concepts.

Carrillo is basically an intuitive painter, having studied with Stanton Macdonald-Wright and William Brice at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the early 1960’s. His work became politicized as he began to paint murals with Roberto Chavez, Louis Lunetta, Charles Garabedian, Ramses Noriega. Since then, Carrillo has been instrumental in organizing Chicano artists in California and in developing projects for the study and documentation of Chicano art and culture through the University of California. His most recent work in the present exhibition reveals that interest and the determination to continue the development of imagery rooted in the history and art of Chicano culture. Two large paintings- one on canvas and the other on ceramic tile- depict a horseman, the chinaco, in the Mexican desert, surrounded by an endless, dry landscape which seems to inspire Carrillo.

The exhibition culminates in a large new painting. The Flight of Sor Juana(1982) which depicts the ecstasy of the seventeenth century Mexican nun and poetess, Sister Juana Inez de la Cruz. This work shows Sister Juana elevated from her seat as the image of St. Thomas manifests itself from a scroll adjacent to the crucifix hung above her table. Sister Juana, who wrote of the conflict between the visible or material and the spiritual worlds, is shown in ecstasy. Carrillo has aligned the figure of the crucified Christ, the spectral Image and Sister Juana’s upturned face to balance the arc her body makes as it rises from her chair. The diagonal cross implied in this composition is carefully echoed by the angle of the tiny cross on her habit and the tilt of the cross on the wall above her. This combination of a symbolic subject and painted vision, which sets the mind in circuitous motion, is an inherent quality of Carrillo’s work; it warrants a long, careful look for those who prefer art with a narrative base.

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