To “Live Our Own Dynamic Epoch”: Eduardo Carrillo at Joseph Chowning Gallery

Eduardo Carrillo at Joseph Chowning Gallery
Katherine Cook
Artweek, October 11, 1990

Eduardo Carrillo, like many Mexican-descended people in America, is striving to redefine patterns of relating to community. In the current exhibition, Mentiritas (Little Lies) at Joseph Chowning Gallery, this struggle is evident. Born in Santa Monica and educated in the United States and Spain, Carrillo has moved between Mexico and California during much of his adult life, forcing him to examine closely his relationship to both Americas. The diversity of style and content in this show of more than twenty paintings and watercolors, ranging from landscapes and single object studies to enormous, mural-like canvases may itself reflect the multiplicity of processes that can result from emotional and intellectual turbulence.

The Hermit/St. Anthony is an unsettling painting in which a seated, skeletal-like figure fixedly stares at an object; overhead a luminous palm protects the scene like a celestial umbrella. The title recalls the story of St. Anthony, a second century early Christian who sequestered himself for twenty years before founding the monastic movement. In the painting, the artist seems to be setting a mood, heightened by his predominant use of incandescent, pale-yellow tones and concern for light, which suggests a state of deep contemplation before action.

Pulling the Plants is a landscape painting in which the muted background supports the busy foreground action. Angular, simplified figures struggle with enormous bright-green plants whose leaves resemble splayed human palms; they seem to almost grab at the participants. The uprooting of these plants acts as a metaphor for the more personal conflict this artist is attempting to reconcile.

In marked departure from the rest of the show are two large mural-like paintings, The Buccaneers, and Two Brothers Fighting, mounted in the foyer of the exhibition hall. The style of these works are reminiscent of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, especially the latter work. Here two muscular male combatants are depicted locked in fierce battle; behind them stands a mysterious priest-like figure whose outstretched arms seem to command spiritual symbols to float upward. With these paintings, Carrillo conveys an ideological sympathy with Los Tres Grandes (Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros) artists of Mexico. Painters, not writers, were at the heart of the 1920’s intellectual vanguard of the Mexican Revolution. Carrillo seems to follow their lead by painting the internal revolution that exists today in the Chicano community.
Like the Mexican muralists, Carrillo sees himself as a “cultural worker” in solidarity with the people.

In striking juxtaposition to these works are two small paintings, The Street Painter and The Letter. Each depicts
solitary, eerily disenfranchised figures whose sombreros resemble halos. In The Letter gut loneliness spills onto the frame which bears deep red gashes along each edge. Again, the internal and external struggle is apparent in both the form and content of the entirety of the exhibition. In another small painting, The Bubble Cafe, the artist concerns himself with geometric planes and intersecting rectilineal surfaces. Carrillo tells us that this scene is taken from the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The geometric forms evoke thoughts of Diebenkorn and his Ocean Park series. Interestingly, Diebenkorn’s Santa Monica studio, where this series was completed, was not far from the birthplace of Carrillo.

In The Artist Dreaming of Immortality at His Grandmother’s House, the artist gives us a bird’s-eye view of the small town of San Ignacio in the Baja region of Mexico where the artist’s family originated. Cadmium red hills dominate the background with larger-than-life trees jutting out from the foot, all encasing an idyllic scene of village life. Color becomes a symbolic factor in viewing all of Carrillo’s work. It becomes even more significant when considered within the historic content of Mesoamerican traditions where color not only conveyed emotion but designated specific gods, direction and time.

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