Fernando Andrade’s new Central Library Gallery exhibition “Muros/Walls” sees the artist venturing into new territory. Known for his photo-realistic drawings focusing on socio-political issues, Andrade is often touted as one of the young artists to watch within the South Texas art scene. With “Muros,” though, he abandons the hyper-realism of his figures in favor of large-scale, mixed media, gestural works emphasizing movement.
The series is the result of a National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) 2018 Fund for the Arts grant. In a statement, Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of San Antonio’s Department of Arts and Culture said, “The Department of Arts and Culture is proud to continue supporting San Antonio artists and is excited to join the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures and the San Antonio Public Library in bringing Fernando Andrade’s exhibit to the residents and visitors of our city. We congratulate Fernando on this collection of work, and thank him for sharing his talents and voice on a topic that is important and timely in our society.”
Moved to action by the anti-immigrant sentiment expressed by President Donald Trump, Andrade builds on the concept of walls to include mental, spiritual and cultural barriers. “Muros” is Andrade’s attempt to move from regional themes to more universal ones.
As you enter the gallery, six larger-than-life drawings are separated into groups of three on opposite walls. The portraits are stunning in their size and draftsmanship. A third wall displays a series of six smaller, more intimate portraits which include the same figures from the larger works.
While the large scale of these drawings (six measure 96” x 54” and are presented behind equally massive glass frames) will no doubt remind viewers of Vincent Valdez’s 2004 monumental boxing match series “Stations,” perhaps a better frame of reference for “Muros” is the British artist Jenny Saville’s recent body of work. Much like Saville’s 2018 series “Ancestors,” “Muros” makes references to several art historical archetypes while presenting a series of contemporary figures in the midst of action. In both series, overlapping bodies emerge from the surface, evoking Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic Vitruvian Man.
“A lot of my work dealt with Mexico and the U.S. border,” Andrade told the Current
. “Some of the feedback that I had been getting throughout the years was, ‘How can you expand your work?’ I started thinking about these issues that we go through. For example, in one of the pieces, I was thinking about losing a loved one. Whether you’re rich, poor, Republican or Democrat, it’s a wall that you have to go through at some point in your life. So instead of using walls as a way to separate each other, I’m thinking about different ways to talk about how we can relate to each other as human beings.”
In Misericordia/Compassion, a modern-day Pietà, Andrade depicts a mother holding a recently deceased boy on her lap. The boy’s lifeless arms hang from his body down to the floor. The longer you observe the drawing, multiple viewpoints begin to emerge from the ink wash that covers the surface. Like the other five large-scale works, Misericordia is filled with tension and a controlled disorder. The portraits in this series are a departure from previous work where Andrade’s figures are static and meticulously rendered. Here, Andrade’s figures seem entangled in a sort of chaos and fight to escape the boundaries of the paper.
“Walls are meant to stop people, but I feel as a human being, it’s natural to keep moving,” Andrade said. “We’re always moving, that’s a part of life.”
In one of the more striking portraits, Permanecer/Remain, Andrade depicts a Native American elder staring directly back at the viewer. His attire, including a cowboy hat, vest and boots, give hints of his cultural background. Markings capturing variations in movement appear behind him. Like the rest of the figures in “Muros,” a sense of introspection prevails from the figure. He remains solitary, anxiety-ridden, stoic.
“He’s actually from North Dakota but I met him here in San Antonio,” Andrade explained. “It was very quick and I asked him if I could take his photo.”
A 2008 graduate from the graphic design program at San Antonio College, Andrade gained recognition early on through his solo exhibitions “A Jugar la Guerrita” at Hausmann Millworks in 2013 and “Tierra y Libertad” at Blue Star Contemporary in 2014. In these works, Andrade juxtaposed the innocence of childhood with the cartel-led violence and trauma often found along the U.S.-Mexico border. His expertly rendered figures and attention to detail drew praise from critics across the board.
With “Muros,” Andrade builds on the themes and concepts of his previous series, yet aims to take his work in new directions. “I learned a lot from the six drawings,” he said. “It’s the largest I’ve ever worked and it’s new techniques.”
In his representation of people from different walks of life, Andrade emphasizes their basic humanity. Isolation, mental health and the loss of loved ones are all universal issues — barriers or boundaries we must overcome. Thematically, “Muros” is centered on the idea of transcending borders and the resilience of the human spirit. But more importantly, “Muros” is Andrade’s not-so-subtle attempt to break through the labels and expectations imposed on him as an artist.
Free, 9am-9pm Mon-Thu, 9am-5pm Fri-Sat, 11am-5pm Sun through March 22, Central Library Gallery, 600 Soledad St., (210) 207-2500, getcreativesanantonio.com
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