Showcasing ‘A Portrait of Complexities’
The walls of La Grua Center in Stonington are adorned with a vibrant array of art.
A canvas shimmers with a deep shade of purple — like a darker twilight — and what look like seesaws painted pink.
Textile pieces consisting of striking images sprawl across another wall: A woman wearing a red hood and rabbit ears. A fish with a large single eye. A skeleton looming next to a woman who bears apparent gunshot wounds.
Next to it is an abstract painting with slashing brushstrokes.
And across the way is a trio of standing panels boasting soft, almost dreamlike images of cities; the panels are connected by thin chains and strings from which hang pieces of small notebook paper, inscribed with handwriting.
While the works are quite different from each other, they all burst with energy and a modern edge.
They are part of a new exhibit at La Grua titled "A Portrait of Complexities, A Celebration of Hispanic Artists.” It is actually a dual show, with work by the same artists featured at the Expressiones Cultural Center in New London.
Guido Garaycochea, who is curator and vice president of the board at Expressiones, curated the “Portrait of Complexities” exhibitions and said that while they boast Latino-American artists, they also aim to show “our complexity, because each of the artists who are going to be shown, they have their own particular style and subject matter, et cetera, in their work. What we wanted to emphasize is that Latino Americans and Latino-American art is not something just across the Mexican border. There are many different countries with many different particularities and complexities that we want to show.”
The artists are Garaycochea, a native of Peru; Carlos Bautista Biernnay, who is originally from Chile; Federico Rosa, who grew up in Honduras; and Adrian Meyer, who lives in Uruguay.
Biernnay, Rosa and Meyer have been artists-in-residence at Expressiones, which Garaycochea and his husband Jose founded in 2009. Expressiones is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide the community with quality artistic programming and to celebrate diversity by inspiring people to immerse themselves in the music, art and customs of the multicultural population.
During their time at Expressiones, the artists-in-residence not only developed a body of work, but they also gave back to the community by leading art classes for local children and working with the Drop-In Learning Center and the New London Public Schools, Garaycochea noted.
About the artists
Rosa earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from, respectively, the City and Guilds of London Art School and the Slade School of Fine Art in London.
At one point, his art was very political, but he decided to shift to work that is more universal so it could connect with more viewers.
“Abstraction seemed to be very good for me in that sense,” he said.
Rosa often takes his inspiration from images he sees that have social relevance. His painting on view at La Grua was spurred by photos of families playing on bright pink seesaws that were installed at the U.S. border wall. In that temporary work designed by Ron Rael, one half of the seesaw was on the American side of the border, with the other half on the Mexican side.
Rosa was intrigued by the design element of it but also the utopic aspect. The shade of pink, coincidentally, was a color Rosa has used in his art.
“For me, it was quite serendipitous,” he said.
The art he creates, Rosa said, is “very physical, it’s very tactile, it has a lot of layers.”
Another piece he is working on is about “identity and masks and layers and peeling layers away. Who are you? What do you identify with? Are you Latin-American? Are you a human being? Are you a homo sapien? These kind of very fundamental questions that, for me, are always in debate because sometimes even if I think, OK, I am Latin-American, does that really define me, is that who I am?”
Reflecting on immigration
As for Garaycochea’s artistic background: his multiple degrees include an MFA in fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and is the manager of the New New Yorkers Program in Queens, overseeing adult immigrant education at the Queens Museum.
The pieces of his that Garaycochea is exhibiting are part of a bigger installation he showcased several years ago at the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery on UConn’s Avery Point campus. The installation consists of panels that are about 70 inches high and 30 wide.
“It talks about immigration. It’s a self-biographical piece, my feelings on migration,” he said.
The piece is titled “Bridges” and is about the different parts of Garaycochea’s life and his trying to understand this country and its past. He read about American history and learned about the complex past between the U.S. and Latin America.
“My mind was trying to understand the place I was in,” he said.
Dreams and nightmares
Biernnay was the artist-in-residence at Expressiones earlier this year. He grew up in Chile during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet, and his shelter at that time was creating. When he went to art school, he didn’t connect to the work there; he went back home and realized his connection was with textile work; the women is his family would sew clothing and household items. That became his mode of artistic expression, with his dyeing the fabric he uses and then sewing and quilting.
Biernnay’s baroque textile collage on display at La Grua mixes elements of dreams and nightmares, and it connects with his past, present and future. It reflects, too, the absurdist point of view he often takes in his work. He said, “Like Klimt, I believe there is an unspoken thought that beauty is perhaps an answer or at least a consolation to life’s absurdities.”
Biernnay, who has studied at the Fashion Institute of New York, among other venues, is also highlighting a quilt he made of himself and his time in New London, with images of submarines and more related to the Whaling City.
Connecting with the creative spirit
Meyer, whose painting “Pensamientos Sobre Fondo Rosa (Thoughts on pink background, 2019)” is featured at La Grua, said, “My main interest is to awaken sensitive consciousness through painting, exploring different aspects of visual perception. I use various techniques and materials, different supports, fillings, and applications, and I use countless plastic resources to materialize the incredible creative process.”
He also said that nothing in his work is predetermined.
“I am just a channel to connect with the creative spirit the divinity speaks through the artist that is the true ART, a transforming phenomenon, every day; I project the new work that will beautify my life, my community, and the world in which I live,” he said.
Garaycochea said the show at La Grua is an opportunity for people who live in or around Stonington to see the work that is happening in New London.
Rosa said he hopes that the exhibition “challenges the idea of what Latin-American identity is and also that in a sense to try to erase a lot of the stereotypes and cliches about how art that comes from south of the U.S. border should look. I hope that, in a sense, my artwork maybe will not be looked as Latin American; it might just be looked at as very good work and it just so happens the person that makes it is Latin American.”
IF YOU GO
What: "A Portrait of Complexities, A Celebration of Hispanic Artists"
Where: La Grua Center, 32 Water St., Stonington
When: Through Oct. 30; 1-4 p.m. Wed., Fri. and Sun. and by appointment; times are subject to change, so call (860) 535-2300 before going there.
Admission: Suggested donation of $5
Contact: (860) 535-2300, lagruacenter,org
Also at: Expressiones Cultural Center, 84 State St., New London through Oct. 15
Contact: (860) 501-9278, expressiones.org