As if floating in a sea of sand, two portraits loom on the canvas, yet they seem to subtly, hauntingly disappear.
The female portraits are mixed-media work of Jorge Santos, one of 60 artists whose works are currently on exhibit at "Latin Views 2012" at the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art, located at the Branford House on the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus.
The highly textured backdrop of the portraits evokes a desert-like environment that the heads appear to inhabit, like part of a landscape. Unsettlingly, elements of the portraits, such as a fracturing eye, disperse into the background.
Santos, a Cuban artist, said his works first appear to him as ideas.
"It's a feeling that builds up over time," said Santos. "This is the world within myself."
Santos was one of a handful of artists who attended a "meet the artists" event that followed the opening reception of this biennial exhibit put on by the locally based Latin Network of the Visual Arts.
The exhibit, which will be on view until Oct. 26, encompasses 85 pieces of juried artwork and represents artists from 18 Spanish-speaking countries. This cultural event has become a community tradition since its inception in 2003.
The quality of the work keeps getting higher, said Julia Pavone, who curated the show with David Madacsi. The pool of artists who apply to get juried into it has increased as well, said Mimi Daumy, a founder of LNVA along with her husband, Gaston Daumy, who is president of the nonprofit organization.
The artists are generally mid-career, and the prices range from about $500 to $9,000. Various styles and media are represented - except installations, as there is not enough space, noted Pavone, who is also director of the Alexey von Schlippe gallery and an art professor at the University of Connecticut.
"Each year we have more mediums and styles than before," said Pavone. "The artists are keeping up with what contemporary artists are doing all over the world - mixing mediums, even the subject matter is more cutting edge and contemporary in general. Everything seems more and more innovative."
Hanging near a window, its subtle mauve and ivory colors lit gently by the sun, is one such work. Using the pulp from a mulberry tree, artist Liliana Fijman, originally from Argentina, created a metal and paper piece titled "Transparency." Fijman first boiled and then pounded the pulp from the mulberry wood to make the paper. The fibers, she said, are very fine, yet strong, allowing the light to come through, like stained glass. The color is pigmented through a water synthesis.
The transparency depicts several female dancers in arching silhouettes. The fragility and strength from the material represent the "pluralities of life, the human spirit and mankind," said Fijman.
Societal themes, like the convergence of money, addiction, and death, come together in the copper work of welding and embossing titled "Archived" by Octavio Cuellar, originally from the Czech Republic and Cuba.
Set into a structure is a pack of the iconic Marlboro cigarette. In front of the box is a spray of flowers, evoking birth, and a cluster of incense suggests the transmutation of matter into the ethereal - both objects common in altars, said Cuellar. A broken Roman column denotes death.
"I consider death a part of life," Cuellar said.
Personal quests can be viewed in works by artists like Olivier Dubois-Cherrier. The mixed media work, titled "Enracinements 2," is an abstract, dream-like landscape, representing his past and future, said Dubois-Cherrier. Nearing 50, he said he was contemplating his mortality and began to examine his heritage. His father is French, his mother from Martinique, an island in the Caribbean.
"It's a concentration of emotion," he said of the work, which is the second in a series. "How can I see the future if I can't see where I come from?"
The piece meters out saturated Caribbean color. A sliver of yellow radiates a relentless sun, and the canvas incorporates sand and a wisp of seaweed. A loosely painted structure anchors the work, its row of windows expanding the spiritual dimension to the viewer.
For the gallery visitor, Latin Views 2012 is expansive - its challenge and strength lies in the diversity. But Daumy said that Pavone has a knack for carving out space for each artist, and creating a visual flow in the gallery.
"The diversity is still as great as anywhere in the world," Pavone said of Latin artists. "Just because they are Latin doesn't mean they have to look a certain way."