Peter Saul, SHICAGO JUSTUS (Chicago Justice)
“Daydreams and Other Monsters,” the latest exhibition to come from UTSA’s Art and Art History Department, offers a pleasing introduction into the worlds of four artists whose work incorporates elements of the surreal and fantastical.
Guest curated by Alana Coates, a 2012 graduate of the department’s Master of Arts program, the exhibition explores the influence of pop artist Peter Saul on a cross-generational group of San Antonio artists including John Hernandez, Louie Chavez and Megan Solis. Among the similarities that bridge these four artists together are references to popular culture, use of bold colors, and the inclusion of distorted or grotesquely shaped figures.
Saul, whose influence has reached an international stage, lived in Texas between 1981 and 2000, while he was teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. It was during this time that the artist had gallery representation in San Antonio and made many connections with local artists, including Hernandez. Now in his 80s, Saul resides in upstate New York, but his presence is still felt here as this exhibition demonstrates. Among Saul’s works included in the show are Ethel Rosenberg in Electric Chair and Legal Abortion.
Alejandro Augustine Padilla
Louie Chavez, Lone Lyfe
Hernandez, an academically trained artist with a counterculture aesthetic, is also a heavy influence on the two younger artists included here, Chavez and Solis. A teen during the 1960s, Hernandez also draws influence from Beatles songs and psychedelic culture to create his vibrant large-scale murals and small sculptural pieces. In Octopus Garden, a large mural created onsite, Hernandez depicts a cartoonish yellow Octopus painting the gallery walls. As any Beatles fan might recognize, the artist is referencing the Fab Four’s 1969 song exploring fantasy and escapism. As Hernandez jokingly explains, his paintings often combine “something for the kids” and “something for the adults.”
John Hernandez, Eye Salute
While Hernandez’s work is steeped in nostalgia, the work of Chavez is grounded in the present. Comprising paintings and sculptural works both large and small, Chavez’s work is filled with references to social media, consumerism and youth culture. In Seen, Chavez ruminates on the popular Facebook messenger app which informs users when sent messages have been “seen” yet not responded to. Chavez’s maze-like imagery seems a metaphor for the online world, which at once brings users together through information, yet isolates and confines through technology.
Luis M. Garza
Megan Solis, Wake and Easy-Bake Oven
Solis, the youngest artist in the exhibition and a 2016 graduate from the department, is the most conceptual of the group. Her works gathered here, comprising paintings, soft sculpture and video installations, seem to draw not only from pop culture but personal trauma as well. In one performance piece (included in the show as a video), Solis is seen sitting in her car on the top floor of a downtown parking garage. With her hair disheveled and face covered by a red mask, Solis whispers sweet nothings into the ear of a mannequin she holds in her arms. The scene is both comical and disturbing, presenting a sort of nonsensical storyline that fits well among the rest of the included works. In the end, it’s this self-deprecating sense of humor, found within the work of each artist, that seems to hold the exhibition together.