Two refreshingly different solo shows are running until late February at the Ex-convento del Carmen art gallery in the heart of Guadalajara’s centro historico.
Their juxtaposition in adjacent wings of this scrupulously preserved pile of centuries-old stone and adobe offers a startling study in contrasting aesthetics – vastly differing artistic approaches which, rather than clashing, serve to throw into sharp relief their respective expressive proclivities.
The most obvious difference between the two shows is one of color: Roberto Pulido’s show “Cosmos” is a violent barrage of neon pinks and blues and oranges and violets, slashing the eye with jagged edges and sharp delineations. Sinuhé Villegas’ “Diarios de un Pintor,” meanwhile, is more muted, with a few brighter shades judiciously placed here and there to relieve the relentless gloom of the prevailing color scheme. His work betrays a much darker, pessimistic sensibility than the one expressed in Pulido’s manic, candy-colored universe.
If you were of the mind to view both shows in the course of a single visit, conventional logic would dictate you start from hushed strings (“Diarios”) and finish with ear-splitting brass (“Cosmos”). However, having come to the Ex-convento ostensibly to see the riotous “Cosmos” while being completely uninformed of Villegas’ concurrent installation, I saw the two shows in reverse. If my visit to the gallery were a meal, the first course would have consisted of a maple bacon-wrapped hot dog covered in gorgonzola cheese, white truffles, and crushed candy canes, followed by a lightly dressed watercress salad for course two. The sequence worked, though, because even devotees of Hello Kitty will want to give their eyeballs a scrub with a brillo pad after a viewing of Pulido’s assaultive, if arresting, images; “Diario,” then, was the perfect visual palliative to Pulido’s dazzling but over-stimulated work.
While worlds apart on the surface, a closer look reveals similarities between the two men’s work.
For instance, neither of them are much interested in semantic obfuscation for its own sake, an approach which so often seems – especially to laymen not schooled in the art of feigned comprehension - an artistic prerequisite for entry past the velvet rope of Fine Art.
Another quality shared by the two exhibitions is their figurative (i.e., non-abstract) nature. Villegas’ “Diarios” is a series of 170 small paintings (all untitled, at least for this show) completed over the course of the last nine years, mixing self-portraits with several bleak renderings of clowns and other figures. It’s essentially a lengthy riff on one aesthetic motif, one which skirts monotony, however, due to the artist’s talent for subtle variation.
Pulido’s “Cosmos,” which takes up twice the Convento’s second floor space (wrapped horseshoe-like around its central courtyard) as “Diarios”, nevertheless features fewer individual works. But the canvases are larger and the work itself much more ambitious in terms of scale, detail and variety of technique. At times, his careening, loopy and perhaps lysergically inspired work recalls the singular art of mid-century figurative artist Thomas Hart Benton, but filtered through a sensibility informed by Mexican (pre and post-Colombian) iconography and colorful folk art, exemplified in my mind by alebrijes, the ubiquitous, vibrantly colored animal sculptures hailing from Oaxaca. And while in “Diarios” Villegas (self-taught) limits himself to oil, Pulido (a UdeG graduate) uses stencil, screen-printing, and razors, in addition to tradition acrylic and oil.
Something which endeared both shows to me was the immediacy of expression, the lack of artifice. Neither artist seems interested in keeping their audience at a distance - but neither do their canvases beat observers over the head with a political, philosophical or spiritual agenda; plenty of room is left for interpretation.
Both Roberto Pulido’s “Cosmos” and Sinuhé Villegas’ “Diarios de un Pintor” – engrossing in completely different ways, disparate but complimentary, – run until February 18. Admission is free. The Ex-Convento del Carmen is located at Avenida Juarez 638, two blocks from Calzada Federalismo. Information on this venetable downtown jewel can be found at their Facebook page or at the website of Jalisco’s Secretary of Culture, sc.jalisco.gob.mx.