Everything old is new again: Gabriella Sanchez’s paintings at Charlie James Gallery look like they could have been made in the 1980s, somewhere between the wry pastiche of John Baldessari and the more raucous David Salle.
What saves them from feeling entirely like throwbacks is their nuanced engagement with family history, gender stereotypes and word play. It’s a world where pastiche is not just an aesthetic device; it’s a way of life.
Most of the photographic images in the paintings come from Sanchez’s family collection. In this body of work, she focuses on men. “First and Second” depicts a painted portrait of a man in profile, overlaid with solarized, photographic images. One shows the legs of a man wearing jeans, his toes turned outward. The other is a reproduction clipped from a Degas painting of a ballerina. The legs of the two figures are in ballet’s first and second foot positions, respectively.
Ballet is a rigorous physical vocabulary, but Sanchez crosses gender and cultural borders by inserting her male relative into this predominantly feminine, Eurocentric field. A nearby video explores this idea with greater clarity, depicting a man and a woman performing the same ballet moves in outdoor urban environments. The man is wearing a T-shirt and jeans, while the woman is dressed in traditional ballet garb. Despite one’s appearance or background, one must conform to convention to be understood.
Sanchez also uses wordplay to expose these cultural collisions. “Rasa/Raza” depicts a photograph of two boys, kneeling beside a dog. Partially overlapping the photo in large block letters is the word “rasa,” as in “tabula rasa.” The idea of tabula rasa, or a blank slate, could refer to the boys’ youth, but is juxtaposed in the title with the word “raza,” which commonly refers to Latinx people. This connection suggests histories of oppression and colonization that treated native peoples and lands as blank slates on which to impose European ideals and values. Scrawled above “rasa,” the word “blank” has been defiantly crossed out.
In Sanchez’s hands, pastiche is not only a reflection of our polyglot image empire but also a way of exposing the mechanisms by which that empire functions. Her paintings explore the strictures, both physical and linguistic, it imposes on those who don’t fit neatly into its Eurocentric, cis-gendered agenda. They also create a site for resistance. If an empire of signs is shown to be constructed, not natural, it can certainly be reassembled otherwise.
Charlie James Gallery, 969 Chung King Road, L.A. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through July 20. (213) 687-0844, cjamesgallery.com
Support our coverage of the local art scene by becoming a digital subscriber and reading our latest news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.