You know what they say about summer gallery shows: summ-er worth seeing, summ-er not. They are frequently mashups featuring wide-ranging assortments of work by affiliated artists. These visual smorgasbords are the larger scale cousins of the gift-sized displays of December, with the expectation mostly to delight but not to expand on trenchant themes or heady concepts.
So when RNG Gallery proprietor Rob Gilmer put his space at the disposal of Fredy Rincon to curate, the energetic artist gathered together a loose gathering of those friends and colleagues who have helped propel his own interest and explorations into painting and sculpture, as well as offering an opportunity to up-and-coming artists.
The respectable result, One Day at a Time, brings nine artists to the party working in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, assemblage, wood burning and paper cutting. Featured along with new works by Rincon are Candie Blanchard, Kitty Brougham, Aldo de la Cruz, Linda Garcia-Perez, Michael Girón, Deb McColley, Thomas Swanson and Bart Vargas.
Rincon showed with most of these artists in last year’s Mementos exhibition at Metro’s South Omaha campus as part of its Los Dias de los Muertos celebrations. As well, many artists have had an affiliation with the art program at Bellevue University, now ironically all but disappeared. Rincon seems to have seen reflected in their works his own preference for line and color, plus a taste for folk art with its conjunctions of fine art, handcraft and ordinary materials.
New colorful paintings and several sculptures are among Rincon’s inclusions. As has become familiar in previous shows of his art, his imagery is a multifaceted collage of meaningful characters drawn from sources both historical and entirely imagined. His work may contain a cautionary carnival of fierce predators, glowering power mongers, guns and bombs; others offer a more jovial carnival of boxers, skeletons, animals, family and friends.
Rincon draws freely from a patchwork of folk traditions, indigenous culture, old master painting, expressionist and street art. His line is that of the latter, a product of his own past in a street crew, a fluid and fast blend of calligraphy, tattoo and caricature. His formats range from gilt-framed paintings to shadowbox altarcitos, filled with collaged pictures, saints, and small, sculpted figures and laced with much gentle humor.
Rincon’s messages are drawn from his own experiences—the lethal lures of gang-driven crime, and extend to the impact of greed and violence on a wider scale (Hole in the Heart of the World). He also represents the hard work of living an honest life of an artist, laborer, husband and father (Mi Vida, Linda). Rincon reminds us to take it “One Day at a Time.”
The flavor of graphic design, spray art, stenciling and tattooing can be seen in Rincon’s protégé, de la Cruz. Three paintings in the exhibition flirt with graceful drawing styles. Timeless with its line drawing of a woman with long flowing hair set against a large clock face is a throwback to album cover designs and art nouveau tobacco ads, where Thin Line Relationship tries to adapt street line style to canvas and stretcher.
Three other painters in the show bring a more formalist approach to their canvases. Girón, well known for easel and mural work in a variety of styles, has included several pieces illustrating a recent attitudinal shift toward representation. La Primavera veils a classical mythological depiction of Spring behind washes of paint, as if it were fading in time. Newer work here, like Evangeline, is completely non-representational, with thick layers of scraped paint through which the artist hopes the viewer will see their own hidden worlds.
For years, Vargas has been playing with geometric abstraction in the forms of bullseyes, starbursts and squares. Featured here are several of the latter, all vertical compositions in house paint on panel with concentric squares in varying color patterns. Their rough freehanded lines combined with their imperfect support and inexpensive gilt frames give off a consistently Vargas vibe that is both museum-y (think Josef Albers color theory experiments with the square) and homey (think quilt patterns).
McColley’s paintings, on the other hand, are more generally biomorphic abstraction—organic shapes on thick, scumbled acrylic surfaces. Her titles—Radiation, Biopsy, and What Next?—hint at something else afoot at a cellular, perhaps intimate level.
Two artists here explore differing sensibilities using paper as their expressive medium. The personal echoes through Garcia-Perez’s variety works that display her pursuits of handcraft from a determinedly female lineage. Her papel picado (perforated paper) designs are intricate and elegant, with birds and butterflies emerging from the pages of a book. Paper doll silhouettes, as well as her “diorama jars”—small mason jars filled with items including baby shoes and miniature wedding cakes—skew intentionally toward the nostalgic.
Swanson, on the other hand, has been making folded paper sculpture that is both charming and alarming. Here he manipulates his original woodcut images including individual portraits and Gauguinesque nudes into the shape of bombs. Despite its understructure of destruction/creation, the spirited work never feels heavy or didactic.
In the realm of found objects, Brougham’s new works focus on accidental beauty and the process of discovery. In her hunt for wood for the flutes she makes and adorns with miniaturist designs, she has run across twigs engraved with nature’s artistry. Taking sticks already scribed by beetles, she enhances and riffs on the carved lines with woodburning tools, resulting in a fresh way to enjoy the conjunction of finder and maker.
Blanchard’s assemblages, on the other hand, combine found objects in service of a more specific or obvious narratives. Items including wooden measuring sticks, brass screws and a $ sign are fashioned into an American flag, entitled “An hegemony by all measures.” Next to it, the icon “Sweet Mary Jane” delineates a leafy-haired figure with an inscription at the bottom advising that “She comforts the sick and strengthens the weak;” it only takes a moment to get the reference to marijuana.
If there is any further glue holding together the Rincon Circle, it is in the decidedly retro feel of the works. Echoes of 1960s-‘80s interests, from pop art and assemblage, acrylic abstraction, new realism, women’s art, Chicana art, and the East Village scene, are seemingly embedded in their sensibilities. Sitting at summer gatherings, we often weave together stories of our past while making new memories for the future. Rincon brought the picnic indoors.
One Day at a Time continues at RNG Gallery until August 2 at its location next to Dixie Quicks at 157 West Broadway in Council Bluffs.