Spanish lessons 

Two shows at HAM celebrate Latino artists

  • "ESPANA":
Gallery-goers in Arkansas have had the frequent privilege — thanks to the Arkansas Arts Center’s collecting practice — of seeing first-rate exhibits of works of art on paper. A new exhibit at the Historic Arkansas Museum is as fine as any of them. But while we might be spoiled in our familiarity with fine intaglio and serigraphy and other print forms, the subject matter of the works at the HAM is challenging to those of us not well versed in Latin American history and symbolism. That’s an even more compelling reason to go to “Latin American Graphics: The Evolution of Identity from the Mythical to the Personal” in the main exhibit space at the HAM. An accompanying exhibit by Latino Arkansans holds its own fairly well with the works by the masters in the “Graphics” exhibit. This writer fell in love with one “Graphics” piece in particular, Mauricio Lasanky’s “Espana” (1956). The Argentina-born artist’s off-register etching, with its doubled gestural line, describes a haunting figure cloaked in white astride a down-scaled, teeth-baring horse and a dark figure weeping over an infant. The babe is round and beautiful and the weeping figure is enigmatic. The face of the robed figure is the draw here; the sketchy eyes of the robed figure command our attention. The lines are fine and detailed in Alfredo Castaneda’s “A flor de Piel” (“On the Surface of the Skin),” a surreal 1950 lithograph of a man who, as if he’d been made of paper, has been ripped open and flattened, revealing his backside, hands clasped over his rump and his head upside down. Above him, the paper has been torn to create a perfect circle, like the moon. The “Graphics” show (which includes other fine pieces by Luis Cruz Azaceta, Roberto Sebastian Matta and Carlos Raquel Rivera, to name a few) intends to demonstrate the Latin artist’s move from religious and cultural symbolism to a modern aesthetic influenced by non-Latin schools. The Arkansas artists exhibit draws from both wells, too: Sabrina Zarco’s art quilts use imagery of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Frida Kahlo, and while both women have generally been run into the ground lately, appearing everywhere from found-object conceptual shrines in the galleries to plastic woven shopping bags from the mercado, Zarco’s quilts, with their fastidious stitching and use of beads and appliques, are nevertheless distinctive and quality works of art. At the other end of the spectrum, literally, are Paula Guajardo’s floating doors backlit by neon light. She gives body to line and infuses air with color — an intellectual creation that owes little, if anything, to ethnicity or Latin tradition. The shows run through Nov. 7. n Bryan Massey, sculpture professor at the University of Central Arkansas, has been commissioned to create a monument to the late Gov. Sid McMath for the McMath Library at 2100 John Barrow Road. Massey was selected from a group of eight artists who responded to a request for proposals issued by the Central Arkansas Library System. He created a sample piece and met with members of the McMath family, who made the final decision on the commission award. The piece Massey took to his interview with the family was a bronze medallion, forged at the UCA studio in Conway, that depicted McMath as a Marine. Massey’s working concept was a series of medallions showing the former governor in his roles as soldier, statesman and family man that would accompanying a statue of the late governor. Massey and the family will continue to meet to discuss what form the memorial will take, and Reita Miller, the library art coordinator, said the final work “will be more than just a statue. It will have a conceptual feel.” The library has set aside $30,000 to pay the artist; another $60,000 in private funds will be raised. Massey will have a year to complete the work after his contract with CALS is signed. The McMath library is being built across the street from Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School.

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