The Art Capades

San Antonio has a knack for the covert art strike, the sudden flash of unannounced brilliance that results in low body counts but a high-intensity experience for those in the target area
Project: Masa #2
11am-4pm Mon-Thu,
noon-5pm Fri, 9am-5pm Sat
Through Oct 25
Gallista Gallery
1913 S. Flores
San Antonio has a knack for the covert art strike, the sudden flash of unannounced brilliance that results in low body counts but a high-intensity experience for those in the target area. So it was last week during the sixth-annual conference of the National Association of Latino Arts Culture, when UTSA’s newly minted Mexico Center hosted a lunchtime symposium with graphic artist and Latino art leader Sam Coronado (announced a mere four days in advance). Coronado, co-founder of Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum, discussed slides from the Serie Project, which he founded to encourage and support silk-screen printing among Latino artists.

A small show of Coronado’s serigraphs, on display in the downtown campus’s Durango art gallery, illustrated the artist’s observation that Chicano art, unlike its Mexican counterpart, is more overtly tied to cultural touchstones like the Virgen de Guadalupe because it is still struggling for acknowledgment and acceptance — but Coronado’s images always feel fresh because he repurposes familiar objects like the Virgen silhouette in crisp vignettes that question social and economic power. In “Untitled (Girl/Lipstick),” from the Guerrilla Series, a young, rifle-toting woman is separated from a tube of red lipstick (that manages to look like a rocket and a phallus, like tubes of lipstick will) by barbed wire.

Project: MeChicano Alliance of Space Artists #2 — featuring work by Coronado and Serie Project participant Luis Valderas, among others — relies on the less-overused Mayan cosmology and the double meaning of “aliens” for its second-annual show at Gallista Gallery. Through kismet or luck I arrived with a bus of NALAC delegates, who swarmed the galleries and pastries for a few minutes before heading out to their next designation, so several of the artists were on hand, including co-curator Valderas, UTSA art don Arturo Almeida, judge-by-day Daniel Guerrero (whose sculpture, a spaceship made of a fresh ear of corn, was chilling at home until the official evening opening), and Luis “Chispas” Guerrero.

Earlier this year, Chispas (“Sparks”) filled Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s Gallery Four with an army of foot-tall robots welded from found objects, two of which are on display in MASA #2. The creatures are toys for Martians, says Chispas, that came to him in a dream. He doesn’t recall what the Martian messenger looked like, but the sculptures are anthropomorphic, proportioned perfectly for our human imagination to project emotions and stories onto (like: aliens convince a talented SA artist to create a small army of seemingly harmless, charming “toys” that suddenly spring to life and take over the planet … a metaphor, of course, for white fears of a brown nation …).

Chispas’s robot dogs — guarding the artist’s studio in back of Gallista — are even more lifelike, with articulated heads, tails, and wheels for feet (you’ll want to take home at least two; Almeida couldn’t resist an insect or two), but I found his more abstract sculptures to be the most moving, especially a series of 18-inch-tall “migrant workers” welded from chain — the fluid, curving link conveying the toll of hard work on the human body. A cross covered in vines laden with heavy fruit adds depth to the tale: Chispas explains that the found objects are all symbolic — the two large bolts that form the arms stand for a man who is holding his family together — and that the cross is a tribute to his migrant-worker great-grandfather, who died in a car accident far from home.

Chispas says he creates “alien” creatures not as a political or cultural statement, but because he wasn’t happy with his attempts to represent the real world. And, like mid-century found-object sculptor Richard Stankiewicz (subject of a 2004 retrospective that stopped at the McNay Art Museum), Chispas says that the discarded bolts, engine parts, and other metal pieces that he incorporates in his work speak to him — whispering of a subconscious desire to make order and function out of chaos and detritus. Chispas’s work is mostly anthropomorphic, and he polishes and seals his pieces; Stankiewicz, influenced by Abstract Expressionism and its critique of modern industrial culture, left his more esoteric visions to rust. But in the work of these two descendants of immigrants there is a common thread that speaks to the alien in all of us, searching for a better world and a future free of strife.

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