I Am Not Your Mexican #5, Le Corbusier acrylic, chicharron, virgin wool felt on canvas, 2019
As far as exhibition titles go, Ruiz-Healy Art’s latest says a lot. For starters, it nods to a pair of exhibitions — one in San Antonio, the other at gallerist Patricia Ruiz-Healy’s new outpost in New York City — showcasing the work of longtime friends Jesse Amado and Alejandro Diaz. Beyond being accomplished San Antonio natives that have drawn creative inspiration from their Mexican American heritage, Amado and Diaz have quite a bit in common: both earned their undergrad degrees from the University of Texas at Austin; both were early Artpace residents (Amado helped inaugurate the residency program in 1995); both made the leap to New York, where Diaz still lives; both have public art installations in San Antonio; and both are represented in the permanent collections of Ruby City and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Interestingly, “Double Pleasure” is also only the second time Amado and Diaz have been paired for a two-person exhibition.
Known for conceptual works reliant on color, texture and materiality, Amado has championed the simple power of text, the nostalgic medium of felt and the deep intensity of Yves Klein Blue. In 2015, Amado referenced his own cancer battle in “30 Day Rx,” a solo exhibition at Ruiz-Healy Art that employed the repetition of brightly colored wool felt circles to represent courses of prescription medication. Revealing the process behind his precisely cut, bicolor “tablets,” Amado attached limp, intertwined felt remnants to the wall with tailor’s pins and gave them telling titles such as Consequences #1
. Poppy from the outside but poignant from within, that show helped cement a visual vocabulary that continues to emerge from Amado’s work today.
Despite calling the Big Apple home, Diaz remains embedded in the local landscape as founder of Sala Diaz, the experimental art space he launched in Southtown in 1995. Although it only represents one aspect of Diaz’s wide-ranging oeuvre, his public art installation A Can for All Seasons remains a hometown favorite as it welcomes travelers to the San Antonio International Airport with a hefty dose of rasquachismo
in the form of plants potted in supersize versions of classic Mexican canned goods, including the ubiquitous La Morena brand jalapeños. When he was finding his footing in New York, Diaz dove into “populist art” by taking the streets to sell curious cardboard signs that later informed neon works offering such signature declarations as “Make Tacos Not War,” “Happiness Is Expensive” and “Wetback by Popular Demand.” Diaz also hit a high note in 2015 with the Linda Pace Foundation exhibition “It Takes a Village,” which celebrated his keen sense of humor alongside a sharp brand of cultural commentary exemplified by Muebles
— a series of cast-resin sculptures that presented Mexican migrant workers as pieces of furniture.
Although still informed by sculptural elements, “Double Pleasure” strikes up a visual conversation that’s rooted in painting, social concerns and a shared fondness for found objects. Among the highlights to expect from the San Antonio portion of the two-city, two-man show are Amado’s I Am Not Your Mexican #5
— a riff on primary colors involving acrylic paint, draped felt and dangling chicharrones — and Diaz’s Plastered in Mexico
— which conjures a cantina vibe with spilled bottles of Corona, bits of a broken statue, drawings of a mustachioed, sombrero-wearing character and a graffiti-like rendering of the Latin motto of Bard College (“Dabo tibi coronam vitae” or “I shall give thee the crown of life”), where Diaz earned his master’s in 1999.
In the exhibition catalog, curator and art historian Carla Stellweg sheds light on the duo’s stylistically different yet interconnected points of view: “While the category of ‘Latino’ art and artists is a much-debated subject, the case of Amado and Diaz offers a highly sophisticated and eloquent view of Mexican American and Latino visual culture at this time.”
Free, opening reception 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, January 29, on view 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through March 28, Ruiz-Healy Art, 201 E. Olmos Drive, (210) 804-2219, ruizhealyart.com.
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