Dear Dolores: Isaac Vazquez Avila @ pt.2 Gallery, Oakland
pt.2 Gallery is proud to present Isaac Vazquez Avila’s second exhibition at pt.2 Gallery, Dear Dolores. Isaac Vazquez Avila’s art mixes together forms and references to create 21st century mashups. His intimately scaled, intuitively assembled wooden constructions incorporate fragments of found objects that Vazquez has often first sawed up and reanimated with new parts and colors, in the tradition of Cubist sculpture. But while Picasso’s 1913 Absinthe Glass and 1914 Guitar and Mandolin cobbled together things with a past life to suggest other recognizable objects, Vazquez’ works instead hover on the edge of unbecoming. Although the viewer might discern the profile of a bird, rabbit or the bejeweled head of a cobra (a tire custom air cap), these constructions generally and quite deliberately don’t add up to anything specific. Instead, they are creatively linked by the artist’s process-oriented eye that finds poetry in the creative potential of forging relationships between otherwise unrelated things. And that Vazquez then paints them, sometimes adding text, only layers another skin of ambiguous meaning.
Isaac Vazquez Avila’s paintings are similarly filled with fragments, often elements of design drawn from walking around his urban neighborhood, or from vernacular visual culture including low-rider magazines and street posters. He acknowledges his relationship to Chicano artistic maestros including Tomas Ibarra-Frausto’s theorization of the redemptive power of rasquache, Carlos Almaraz’ imagery of urban conflagration, and performance artist (and neighbor) Guillermo Gomez-Peña’s mythos of border crossing. Vazquez draws on his own experience as a sign-painter from years in his newly renamed Avila Mio, the hecho a mano sign-shop operating out of his San Francisco Bernal Heights studio. His hard-edge heraldic imagery weaves together bands of color with depictions of crosses and serpents, flaming tires drawn from an automotive shop sign, and iconic imagery of the Aztec geological couple Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl made famous in calendar art. Although Isaac Vazquez Avila has worked in large formats including billboard murals, his easel paintings – like his sculpture – are often intimate in scale. All incorporate gouache, the opaque watercolor media beloved by artists for its dry matte surface and its ability to be awakened with every fresh application of water. To explain this infatuation with gouache in the work of many Mission School artists, acclaimed painter Alicia McCarthy once said to this writer “Gouache is our secret weapon.”
The title of the current exhibition “Dear Dolores” conjures feelings of sadness and pain, but the artist chooses to keep his iconography and its emotional motivation private. Nevertheless, these images often evoke the artist’s Mexican American background, family history, and neighborhood where he makes his home. His work also engages in a more public conversation with art history - with Cubism, Bay Area art, and Chicanismo aesthetics, therein suggesting the sophistication of his own kind of Escuela de Misión 2.0. —Mark Johnson