February 6, 2024
by Rebecca Romani
Spring is starting with a riot of color and design on the walls of The Studio Door Gallery in Hillcrest, run by curator and artist, Patrick Stillman. The current show, “Without Walls,” curated by Andy Gonzalez of La Onda Arte Latino, is a strong, vibrant celebration of new beginnings, new collaborations, and new ways of seeing.
The year is still young, but Gonzalez and Stillman have brought in a Latino-based art show with an exciting subtext of traditional Indigenous design brought forward through modern techniques as well as visual ties and commentary that cross centuries, cultures, and countries.
Thanks to Stillman’s thoughtful layout and Gonzalez’s rigorous curation, “Without Walls” may well be one of the more exciting shows of the year.
Stillman is enthusiastic about the new show that features Latino artists from the San Diego Region, Mexico, and other parts of Latin America. “Without Walls” will be available for viewing until February 24 at the Studio Door Gallery on Fourth Avenue in the heart of Hillcrest.
“There are no weak pieces in the bunch,” said Stillman. “The show speaks well of the artistic integrity of the work being shown.”
Stillman started the Studio Door Gallery in 2014 and has steadily built it into a visionary fine arts gallery with new and listed artists, artist studios, and events that feature music, food, arts education, and other elements.
Stillman and his gallery were recently selected by the San Diego Tourism Authority for its 2024 Tourism Accelerator Cohort. One of just ten minority (in this case, LGBTQ) businesses selected, Stillman and the Gallery will benefit from mentorship and other training to help grow the business and to assist in greater outreach.
Gonzalez is equally thrilled by the opportunity to bring Latino fine art to Hillcrest, an area that seldom sees art shows with Latino artists, despite being one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Diego.
Gonzalez points out that for many of the artists who often show in small group shows or neighborhood galleries, this is their first time in a formal gallery. “I am grateful to Patrick for the space,” he said. “To show in a gallery elevates the art and lends the artists additional legitimacy.”
Both Gonzalez and Stillman agree that they hope the show will bring in people “who don’t actively seek out” Latino art. “I hope that the quality of the works will open people’s eyes to work being made on both sides of the border,” said Stillman.
Gonzalez, the owner, and curator of La Onda Arte Latino has been curating dynamic exhibits and markets of Latino art and crafts for over 10 years, and frequently showcases artists from San Diego and Tijuana in various venues alongside the San Diego Latino Film Festival.
Over the years, he has built up an impressive list of innovative Latino artists from Southern California, Mexico, and Latin America to call upon for his exhibits.
Stillman mentioned that he and Gonzalez had been looking for a way to collaborate for a long time, ever since the two first met through the San Diego Media Arts Center that runs the San Diego Latino Film Festival.
“It’s wonderful to have my two worlds come together,” said Stillman.
Stillman also pointed out that 2024 is a year of anniversaries and new beginnings. “It’s been 10 years since I opened the gallery,” Stillman said. Gonzalez added that for him, the show represents a new era of curating in galleries since he had to reduce his gallery schedule due to COVID.
The show also is the opening salvo for the San Diego Latino Film Festival now entering its fourth decade this coming March.
The exhibit itself is a daring, vibrant display of fantastical beasts, film, and art icons, as well as scenes from Latino life rendered in both modern techniques and time-honored Indigenous materials. The Studio Door Gallery is surprisingly roomy, the work beautifully laid out in ways that invite the viewer to examine it close up and to take it in from various angles. The joy, cultural pride, and innovative techniques fairly crackle off the walls. The colors are exuberant, the diversity of the work dazzling.
Additional work peaks out from artist studios discretely arranged further back in the gallery and many of those studios will be accessible during the show.
A walk through the main exhibit reveals that the iconic Frida Kahlo is amply represented, accompanied by stunning examples of traditional work from Oaxaca and nods to the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, straw work, and representations of both Spanish and European historical figures.
Viewers may recognize the Southern California artist, Innocente Izucar, behind some of the charming sea life paintings. Now her late 20’s, Innocente has pulled herself up from being an undocumented homeless teenager to a fiercely independent artist creating bright and imaginative work. Her art practice and life were the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary short, Innocente (2013).
Other works in the show speak to a broad diversity of approaches from traditional to post-modern pop with a twist.
Benito Del Aguila from Tijuana, for example, turns his sharp eye and post-modern bent to create a subtle commentary on the hegemony of American popular culture. Pop art aficionados will recognize the reference to Warhol in Del Aguila’s silk screen Tropicalizacion Warhol series. But Del Agulia is going much farther than merely quoting- he takes iconic figures from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (1940’s-50’s) such as actress Maria Felix and singer/actor Jorge Negrete, and gives them the same quasi-adoring treatment that Warhol gave Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, elevating these staples of Mexican cinema and entertainment celebrated in the barrios on both sides of the border to the demi-god status of mainstream American entertainment of the same era.
Both Felix and Negrete were celebrated in Europe and Latin America as well as Mexico and were household names in the Latino neighborhoods along the border. By giving them the Warhol treatment, Del Aguila is rejecting American hegemony in film and making the point that Mexican cinema and its stars have also earned a place of respect in the canon of World Cinema.
Traditional indigenous art techniques also take center stage at the show. “Ancient traditions coming forward in a modern way, as Gonzalez puts it.
Moises Cruz Altamiro of Artemufasa works with artisans from Oaxaca and Nayarit to collaborate on fiercely beautiful work that combines barro negro (carved black pottery uniquely from Oaxaca) with chaquira (glass beading from Nayarit) to create striking traditional Alebrije figures which represent the spirit animals that guide the dead back to earth during Dias de los Muertos, The Days of the Dead, at the end of October.
According to Gonzalez, the black pottery is covered with a sticky substance and the beads painstakingly pressed in, following intricate patterns drawn out beforehand, making each piece unique.
Artisans from the same group also created the elaborate jaguar, The Guide that stalks the front window of the gallery. The piece is decorated in the style of the mythical Alebrije. If you have seen the film Coco, you may recognize the style.
Other pieces that draw from ancient traditional techniques include Popart Turtle and Falcon by Edgar Zapeda Diaz.
According to Gonzalez, the creation of mosaics with colored straw goes back to Aztec tradition. The delicately laid straw is so finely cut, that it looks like stitching. Examples of the colored straw tinted with natural dyes sit near Diaz Zapeda’s work in a clay vase by regularly exhibited Studio Door artist, Karen Cadiero-Kaplan.
Another Studio Door artist, Miguel Camacho Padilla, represents the LGBTQ community with brilliantly worked canvases done with a palette knife. His work is a deep and nuanced examination of intimate relationships between men and daily life as part of the LGBTQ community.
Other works of note include The Lazy Fat Cat, by Esau Andrade, a largely self-taught artist from the Mexican state of Nayarit, in the style of the Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, known for his over padded forms.
Other artists in the show look to more European/Mexican sources for inspiration. For example, two dancers stand in brilliant contrast to each other – David Silvah and Ugi Morales created “Spanish Sunrise, their first collaboration. It’s a beautiful depiction of a Flamenco dancer with a well-executed flowing skirt and mantilla. Just around the corner, hangs her companion, a Ballet Folklorico dancer, La Mexicana, in traditional dress by Ramon Barajas. The depiction closes the centuries and the distance to bring in another dance tradition that is also a mix of non-European and Spanish dance practices.
Judith Rivero evokes the excesses of European empire in her painting, Madame Antoinette, through its use of heightened jewel tones while reminding the viewer that France ruled Mexico politically and culturally for a brief tragic moment, only to be defeated soon after the Battle of Puebla, an event celebrated during Cinco de Mayo.
For Elizabeth Ortega, the late Renaissance serves as inspiration. She looks centuries back to insert a bit of esoteric fun in her works, The Jazz Singer and The Cellist, with their elegantly rendered sheet music, a depiction one sees in works as early as H. Bosch. According to Gonzalez, “the music is actually playable!”
Two works that continue the fun are Pako Pablos’ Las Fridas and Lives by Marlen Castor Preciado. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Pablos is known for mixing modern techniques with depictions of iconic cultural figures. He also incorporates augmented reality into some of his work to stunning effect. An intriguing example of his use of augmented reality that brings the work beyond the frame is seen in Las Fridas – access the code with your cellphone to see for yourself what Pablos’ Fridas are up to.
Marlen Castor Preciado, working in Rosarito, also takes her work one step further. Her beautiful tonda of sea life and coral beds hides a fun element. Don’t hesitate to use the blacklight flashlight next to the canvas to dive into Castor Preciado’s world.
As part of the show, Stillman and Gonzalez have a number of events scheduled, weather permitting.
February 10, 5-9 p.m.
February 10, gallery patrons will have a chance to meet one of the featured artists, Pako Pablos. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. Pablos is known for mixing modern techniques with depictions of iconic cultural figures. He also incorporates augmented reality into some of his work to stunning effect. His series Modern Day Miracles combines iconic consumerism with religious imagery in ways that are both delightfully subversive and pointedly critical of the nexus between religion and exploitative consumerism.
Also in the show is an intriguing example of augmented reality that brings his” Las Fridas” beyond the frame.
The reception features music and food, and a raffle, as well as a chance to meet Pablos and talk to him about his work and see his prints.
A rousing meet and greet hosted by the House of Mexico, February 16, 6-9 pm, with traditional food and music. This is a great way to get to know the House of Mexico and learn about its membership and projects.
A final, closing reception with the artists is scheduled February 17, 6-9 pm at the Studio Door. Most artists will be in attendance, including those from Mexico who were able to get a US visa to cross to attend the show, although visa requirements for artists attending shows and receptions in the US tend to be quite strict and the visas are not always granted.
“Without Walls” continues at the Studio Door Gallery during regular hours until Feb. 24.
For more information on events and hours, please see The Studio Door.