“PinturaFresca,” curated by Luis Ituarte, is an exhibition of new work from nine young and largely self-taught artists from Tijuana. The title, which means “wet paint,” is appropriate: In focusing on a city whose physical growth during the last decade has been astronomic and chaotic, the show reveals a cultural landscape that’s still very much under construction but buzzing with enthusiasm.
The hybridized nature of life in a border town combined with the absence of a formal academy makes for a broad diversity among the nine artists. Indeed, the only real continuity is an honest, expressive quality that seems to inspire and energize the incorporation of diverse materials. Although all of the works included in the show might be roughly characterized as paintings (there is no sculpture, installation, video or photography), they move beyond the traditional parameters of the medium with a passionate, somewhat reckless abandon to stretch the capacity of color and embrace a variety of emotive substances, including charcoal, enamel, fabric, sequins, sand, gold leaf and text.
The venture isn’t always successful. The sequins, buttons, thread, lace and other decorative fragments that embellish Mely Barragan’s paintings, for example, only clutter her already cramped compositions, in which rows of cartoonish figures vie for the viewer’s attention like sardines in a can. Alejandro Martinez-Pena’s brash use of undiluted color and self-conscious formatting (one work stretches an image across a grid of six canvases; another is fashioned like a large scroll) do little to remedy the essentially uninspiring quality of the images themselves, which are playful but relatively shallow. In both cases, the material experimentation seems less a gesture of feeling than an insufficient compensation for its lack.
The clutter of stickers, text and scribbles that deface the airbrushed surfaces of Pablo Llana’s stylized portraits, on the other hand, come across as unruly gestures of anger and desire, enhancing rather than confusing the emotional effect of each work. The loose, spontaneous and vaguely animalistic forms in Enrique Ciapara’s big, abstract paintings, though perhaps too conspicuously indebted to Jean-Michel Basquiat and other ‘80s abstractionists, are similarly genuine.
Jaime Ruiz Otis uses a thick, heavy palette laced with gold leaf to convey the psychological atmosphere of Tijuana. In one painting that packs a particularly heavy punch, blocky, gold-plated forms (loose references to the city’s booming maquiladoras ) line a street that is a river of screaming color beneath a psychedelic sky that seems to promise a nuclear rainstorm.
On the other end of the spectrum stylistically, but equally invested in the dynamics of atmosphere, are the minimalist paintings of “Boscho” Roberto Romero. These are landscapes elegantly refined to their most basic elements--land and sky--though the qualities of each are mixed: The ground is as smooth and black as a night sky while the sky, red in one painting and green in the other, has an earthy, sandstone-like texture.
On the more conceptual side is Daniel Ruanova’s “Children Shootout: The Seven Stages of a Laser Beam” (2001), a three-part work that explores the process of art-making in reverse by charting the literal deconstruction of a painting. The first part of the work is a laser-print photograph of a long, six-paneled, abstract painting; the second is an actual version of that or a similar painting from which much of the pigment has been removed, leaving a raw, blurry surface; and the third is a narrow, rectangular form that seems to be the same painting put through a trash compactor. This last object, composed of hundreds of cubes made from small squares of canvas held together with thick enamel, is a remarkable piece.
Perhaps the most powerful works in the show come from Tania Candiani and Hugo Crosthwaite. Candiani’s “Lipo Front” and “Lipo Back” (both 2001) are 10-foot portraits of the same nude, heavy-set woman, rendered in flesh-colored cloth that is sewn to the canvas with shaky, expressive lines of black thread and stuffed to form a pillowy bas relief. Sensitively rendered and imbued with affectionate humor, the works lend a gracious monumentality to a sort of figure all too overlooked in today’s visual culture.
Crosthwaite’s two multi-paneled paintings, taken from his nine-part series, “Tablas de Novena” (2001), are stormy depictions of long-standing Catholic themes, such as the expulsion from paradise, the final judgment and purgatory. Rendered in pencil and charcoal on wood, the works teem with bodies that are stretching, writhing, rising and falling, suspended amid black clouds and fragments of landscape. They’re dark, deep, heartfelt works that tower over the rest of the show like a daunting spiritual conscience.
If the work in “PinturaFresca” feels underdeveloped in places, it shines boldly and unexpectedly in others, proving that these artists have excelled with a scarcity of resources and should only continue to thrive with increased exposure of the sort offered by this show.
Luckman Gallery, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, (323) 343-6610, through Dec. 15. Closed Friday and Saturday.