Searching

November 8, 2017

 

Miami-based Arturo Correa lived his first 24 years in Venezuela where he achieved remarkable success as a young painter. Correa's father was a surgeon and his mother, a psychologist. As a child, he recalled listening to their heated debates. His father argued for the overriding influence of the natural sciences, governed by pragmatic, objective, rational thinking; his mother advocating for the subjective mind, governed by intuition and insightful reasoning. It was the classic nature/nurture conflict, and how each one affects change in human health and behavior. I believe these conflicted conversations deeply affected the young Arturo. Like his parents whose professional careers were based on healing, Arturo soon discovered his passion as an artist was also committed to, using his words, "fixing people."

Correa moved to the United States in 1989 and continued his art practice living and working in New York City. Incorporating popular culture images from his adopted home, he forged an expanded visual vocabulary. Two seminal events markedly changed his trajectory. Arturo's solo exhibition, "Celebrating Mythology", organized by New York University professor Marilyn Karp, opened in December 2000 in New York City. The show was a major success which spurred Arturo, now filled with new ideas, to work feverishly on expanding this series. As luck would have it, the exhibit closed mere months before the horrific 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Arturo became despondent and unable to produce new work. Frustrated, he placed empty canvases on the wall in his studio, dipped paper towels in paint and flung them across the room onto the canvas. The colored stains inspired him to outline the stain with a thick black line and - voila, his first flower emerged. No longer feeling empty and without hope, he saw this new image as a reincarnation of his need to paint. The flower became the inspiration for a new body of work. Five years later, his brother Carlos died, which profoundly changed his perspective world view from an objective, detached reasoning process to a personal spiritual experience.
I was first introduced to Arturo Correa during his solo exhibition opening at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in 2014 and was entranced by his ideas of duality and diverse approaches to art making, from epic paintings to elaborate performance pieces. Correa's oeuvre provides a masterful study in contrasts and juxtapositions, a direct influence of cultural and familial forces in Venezuela. Like many Latin American artists, his paintings, mixed media works and sculpture are dynamic, often autobiographical, and rife with symbolism and vibrant color.

Flat, frontal, with no concern for perspective or horizon to ground the viewer, Arturo's paintings combine figure, text, contemporary and historic iconic imagery gleaned from past and present. Disparate objects appear as if floating on air, arbitrarily positioned in a playful, collaged manner with no regard for scale. They hint at life's absurdities and injustices with a certain optimistic cynicism, wry humor and irony. Some of the objects are painted with a surgeon's precision, others wildly organic and free. All are informed by Arturo's personal insightful journey into memory and philosophy. Were it not for inherent colorful exuberance of these realistic and expressionistic images, his work would most certainly delve into moody, sturm-und-drang existentialism. But it clearly does not; it deliciously hovers on that exquisite edge between the two.

Correa's reoccurring theme and exhibition title, "Searching", examines the chaotic nature of human existence and the continuing quest for greater understanding of life's mysteries. As a young artist, Arturo's initial influence had been Venezuelan painter, Oswaldo Vigas. However, living in New York, having an American wife and young son, impacted his work in much greater depth and breadth. In fact, it is his son who inspires Arturo to incorporate images from today's youth culture. Arturo's iconography includes cartoon characters, stick figures, superheroes, mythological characters from both present and past, childhood toys, as well as flowers, Japanese lanterns and traffic cones, horses and buildings. While politically charged images such as gas masks, protective military gear, goggles and soldiers do indicate political strife in his homeland, they are not prominent.

Setting the stage at the Ascaso Gallery's entrance is Arturo's painting of his wife Jennifer in goggles, appearing as a sentry - protective, yet curious; aware, yet vigilant and cautious.

Searching for Wonderland references the children's book, Alice in Wonderland. The rabbit, aware that time is running out, looks anxiously at his clock; the time train is on its journey. Hand puppets of tiger heads, one in sepia, the other in color, suggest different perceptions.
Four paintings from Arturo's Painting Pants series explore the role of artist as superhero in his studio. Donning his jeans and picking up his brushes, Arturo himself sets the stage, transforms into a new persona and begins to work. Similarly, in the painting, Searching for Neverland, Peter Pan holds a compass, wears a sword and is surrounded by colored and sepia marble globes falling-rising around him. His clothes reference soldiers' attire; Pan appears ready for battle.
In virtually every painting, Arturo's complex trove of iconographic images tells the tale. The ever puzzling Rubik's cube is prominently featured in the Stage 16 and Cualquier Mediodia de Marzo paintings. Two paintings, Even el Gato Decide to be Happy and Life As Usual under a Pink Lily depict daisies and lilies outlined in black. Bittersweet Garden and Buscando el Asteroide B612 features birds and open boxes; pixilated, stylized black and white clouds, with mid-century motifs and patterns.
Atypical of Arturo's signature style, but nonetheless connected, are his elegant, spare Waterfalls. Seeing wheelbarrows of wood scraps in his studio, Arturo looked anew at remnants of the materials he used to make canvas stretchers and frames. After determining the discarded wood was as important as the paintings themselves, the idea of the Waterfalls series was quickly revealed. Paying homage to Venezuela's strikingly beautiful waterfalls such as Cuquenan, Llovizna, and specifically Angel Falls, the highest in the world, he assembled the glued wood fragments into Mondrianesque, waterfall-like wall constructions using primary colors of red, yellow and blue.

As a highly respected mid-career artist, Arturo Correa legitimately carries the torch and follows the path of late 20th and early 21st century post-modernist masters such as Bob Rauschenberg, David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francesco Clemente. As a true bicultural artist, having now spent an equal number of years immersed in the culture of Venezuela and the United States, Correa successfully bridges and fully integrates the aesthetic vibe and philosophies of both countries. His personal vision - his intent - is indeed on "fixing people", by visually communicating a new awareness of the everyday world around us.

Barbara Anderson Hill - Miami, May 2016

 

 

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