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"A Hispanic Perspective" Exhibit Creates Vista Without Boundaries

By Philip E. Bishop | Sentinel Correspondent

May 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

What exactly is "a Hispanic perspective"?

From the look of the exhibition at the Osceola Center for the Arts, it's hard to say. If the 11 Central Florida artists in "A Hispanic Perspective" share an outlook, it's obscured by the varied character of their art.

Yet there are some commonalities that appear among the artists. Some hold to traditional Latin American themes and icons. Still others incorporate brilliant, bold colorations.

John J. Browne III Ayes explicitly honors the "Hispanic heritage in La Florida" in an oil painting of that name. Browne portrays himself at the easel, surrounded by signature images of Central Florida and portraits of Latin American cultures from which Hispanic residents originate. It's the kind of popular image that best hangs in a public building, celebrating in an easy way a cultural diversity that was often hard won. Of course, the Aztec and Maya cultures that Browne represents are not the least bit "Hispanic," though their descendants may now speak the conqueror's language.

Jimmy Rosado's mixed-media "Guadeloupe Virgin" likewise reiterates one of Latin American culture's ubiquitous images in a near-primitive style. The simplicity of Rosado's images is affecting while the energy and variety of his textures help him avoid cliche.

Judged on the work alone, there's nothing "Hispanic" at all about artists such as Aurora Rincon and Edson Campos. Rincon's painting relates clearly to four bent-wire figures installed nearby. The sculptures establish the motif of women in embrace or concerted artistic movement.

Her mixed-media paintings depict spectral female figures in an aura of blue that gives the three canvases a decidedly romantic cast. In a wall label, the Venezuela-born artist cites the influence of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein, but it's hard to see anything hard-headedly feminist about Rincon's painting. Stein probably would have liked Rincon's lone ceramic piece in this exhibition, a simple squatting figure set off by itself in splendid isolation.

Campos' elegant classical technique sets him apart in this show, as evidenced in his portrait head of "Sarah" and the contemplative "Echo." The latter work depicts a chic young woman in profile sitting beneath an elaborate classical rotunda, evidently a government capitol or temple. In the Western tradition, such architectural settings usually lend a timeless gravitas to the painting's subject. Perhaps Campos' image seeks to assure us that youthful introspection will be with us always.

Compared with Campos' classical restraint and finesse, the acrylic paintings of Obed Gomez are fiery hot, full of what we might rightly call Latin fever. In "Viva La Musica," the Puerto Rican native uses a swirling expressionistic brush to render a dynamic trio of musicians and dancers. Armando Rivera employs a similar highly saturated palette in his surrealistic "By the Boardwalk," in which kite strings draw two sitting boys weightlessly into the air.

The surrealism is even more explicit in Pia de Biedma's "Awakening," which counterposes a woman's face to a shadow visage behind a screen of membranes or fibers. A piano keyboard curls like a serpent between the two faces, as if it had wriggled out of a Jungian dictionary of dream symbols. It's possible, at least, that the painting's subject has "awakened" to the dark powers hidden in the dream and that she now must confront a frightening hidden self.

In these three painters, there is a shared sensibility of the passion, mystery and magic in everyday life. Gomez's homage to Cervantes' hero Don Quixote reminds us of one truly Hispanic source of this sensibility -- Quixote's recognition that fantasy can re-enchant a world that's lost its magic.

That's the spirit of Claudia Pandolfi's mixed-media constructions. Technically, Pandolfi's "Alegria" and "Sunday Afternoon" are the exhibition's most adventurous works, combining acrylic painting, inlaid mosaic tile and sculptural elements. In "Alegria" especially, the mosaic pattern reinforces the motif of checked circus balls, on which an acrobat does a handstand. The painting's sense of playful repetition balances the laborious technical accomplishment. "Sunday Afternoon" is a more conventional image of underwater flora and fauna, where the combination of media seems merely decorative.

Of the photographs here by Arturo Macias and Marcos Serrano, the purest is Serrano's black-and-white "Arquitectura," which traces the gridlike facade of a contemporary building. Macias' studio portrait of a pregnant beauty, titled "Mother Nature," doesn't quite achieve the mythic timelessness to which he aspires.

The only one of these artists who even attempts pure abstraction is Marcelo Lozada, born in Argentina but educated in Peru, whose "Element II" explores negative and positive space. Two asymmetrical side panels frame a central construction of triangles and rectangles, overlaid in a three-dimensional tangle. It's the only sign that these artists have inherited the Hispanic genius of Picasso and Joan Miro, those inveterate pioneers of abstraction.

We live in an increasingly globalized art world. The variety of styles and media on display at Osceola are evidence that these artists are blending in, and that birthplace and surname tell us less and less about the art and the artist.

Philip E. Bishop is a professor of humanities at Valencia Community College.

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