Art Slant Review 'May Flowers'
Linda Warren Gallery
1052 W. Fulton Market St., Chicago, IL 60607
May 16, 2008 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Mariano Chavez's exhibit at Linda Warren Gallery is at once bracing and classical, which is something of an achievement considering a well-known porn star features prominently. Chavez's May Flowers, on display until the 20th of June, features large oil paintings, silk screens and his popular posters created for rock shows.
The initial painting of the show is First Date (2008, shown above) which depicts two groups of nederthals meeting, remeniscent of Stanley Kubrick's 2001. The painting also sets up a surprisingly linear narrative of art and civilization, beginning at the dawn of human history. The early humans appear to be warring, one group carries flowers while the other threatens them with malevolently glowing blue orbs. Aside from recalling 2001 this scene also recalls images from the sixities with hippies putting daisies in soldiers rifles, suggesting the binary of peacefulness and aggression is not a cultural condition (as suggested by some in the sixities) but rather a biological one.
The Silver Line (2008, pictured above) is a very large oil painting featuring a porn star (identified as Wendy Whoppers by the gallery information) with very large breasts. Appropriating pornographic images has been used by different artists for different purposes, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Richard Prince. What initially seems a very sexist, even misogynistic depiction of this woman gains nuance when seen in terms of the other paintings displayed. In the context of the aforementioned First Date, and especially African Mask Night /The Lesson (2008, seen below) in which a squatting woman wearing a mask (a quote from Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon) presents the encircled boys with two fertility figures unmistakably resembling the neolithic statue Venus of Willendorf, Chavez's The Silver Line takes on new meaning. In this context Wendy Whoppers is recast as an ancient fertility figure, flowery shapes surround her vagina and a milk-like substance pours from her breasts. In this way Chavez raises the question of whether the current fascination with large breasts is a continuation of a very ancient impulse towards desiring a fecund female. In Chavez's work the profane porn star gains a shade of the sacred.
Chavez's exhibit at Linda Warren is a bit gritty at first but is also filled with art historical allusions. The work is executed with more than a hint of Chicago Imagist influence, whether it's the frank sexuality or the drawing style of of the flower paintings it's hard to tell, but the Imagist influence feels like it is there. Which is perhaps no surprise considering the artist received both a bachelor of fine arts degree and a master of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ultimately Mariano Chavez's work is provocative but with a purpose and feels very much like "Chicago Art" for those of us still searching for the lingering influence of the Imagists.
(Images from top to bottom: First Date, The Silver Line, African Mask Night/The Lesson, all 2008, provided courtesy of Linda Warren Gallery and the artist)
Posted by Abraham Ritchie on 6/07
New City Break Out Artist
Chicagos next generation of image makers
Mariano Chavezs universe is populated with trolls, grotesquely gigantic breasts, flowers and cavemen. Certainly theres a John Waters plot in there somewhere. If its inappropriate and embarrassing, chances are that Chavez has captured it. Even bouquets of flowers rendered in pastel seem suspect in the context of Chavezs body of worka world of cartoonish ugliness and proud despair.
Growing up in South Texas in a town with only "religion and bars," a true shit hole, explains Chavez, the nastiness crept through and took center stage in his art as if by destiny. After leaving home with 300 bucks in his pocket and eyes set on high-class Paris, he ended up in Chicago, attended art school, and has since worked at various architectural salvage companies in the city. The warehouse where Chavez works and keeps his studio is fitted out like an architectural butcher shop, with iron grates hanging from the ceiling and ruined ornamental slabs against the walls. Its a fitting environment for an artist whose process includes scavenging source material, say, Time Lifes pictorial encyclopedias or Internet porn. What many may gloss with a passing interest, Chavez sees material ripe with meaning.
"Children will love it, adults will be terrified," Chavez says of his new poster design for an art exhibition. The poster features a recurring character from many his other posters, prints and paintings: a drug-eyed floating face with a plump lolling tongue that hangs somehow out both the front and back of its head. This figures reappearance represents within Chavezs body of work what he sees as happening across the visual spectrumreiterated symbols that provide constant meaning. This includes something as simple as flowers, but also something as strange as the over-sexualized female body. The Venus of Willendorf, for instance, is comparable to Wendy Whoppers, the porn star with impossibly huge breasts. This constant symbol of the female body bloated with sexuality may be viewed differently by various cultures, yet its outline has remained mostly unchanged over centuries.
Chavezs canvases often scratch at something taboo, although its not quite certain what exactly might be the nasty bit. Some are sexually suggestive, while others are racially charged; its not clear how or why these might offend, yet they do. Chavez isnt to blame for creating this nastiness. His collage process pulls images from varied sources, from mass culture to ethnographic surveys. If the art is disgusting, its only because thats what is available.
Chavez has been criticized for not painting his disgustingness with enough beauty, such as a work by John Currin or Lisa Yuskavage. To his credit, its easy enough to pull an image of Wendy Whoppers from the Internet. Pixelated, the image is truer to the form we recognize. But many of Chavezs prints are also hand-colored and do emit a rarefied air, even if they are only concert posters as quickly torn down as they are pasted up. He maintains a respect for artistry if the piece warrants it, and this can mean careful consideration of watercolor atop silkscreen or endless revisions of a print series until he gets it just right. The process of making art is slow; it takes time to ferment, like the link he sees between the prehistoric female idol and the 1980s porn star. Looking again at Wendy Whoppers, Chavez jokes, "Theres nothing to love." With breasts like weapons, sex becomes terrifying. Life is short; art is long; despair is long, too. (JF)
Mariano Chavez, "May Flowers," shows at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 West Fulton Market, (312)432-9500, May 16-June 20. Lindawarrengallery.com
by Jeremy Biles
Wanting What You Hate
I have one of those plastic trolls, popular in the 70s, with the shock of neon hair, potbelly, and beady eyesonly mines been split from crown to crotch, and is missing one eye and all its hair. I found the grinning little monster in an alleysome kids lost toy.
Its just the kind of thing that Mariano Chavez loathes. Ive always hated trolls, he says. But Chavez, who received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute, has populated his studio with scores of the detestable creatures. They crop up in paintings such as Troll Lover, in which three women with pendulous breasts sport toothy trollish smiles.
And the monsters are all over Chavezs self-published books. On the cover of Explanations, theyre superimposed on an absurdly chesty woman lifted from the pages of a porn mag. These grinning troll headscrowned by gaudy floraoften deprive bodies of their human heads, thereby possessing or kidnapping their buxom hosts, as Chavez describes it.
Chavez, too, is a man possessed by these phantasmal trolls. You wouldnt know it at first. Hes animated, affable, funny. But when he talks about his work and his life, its clear that he, like the menaced women he paints, is vexed by monsters. They come at him from everywherememories, daydreams, popular cultureinserting themselves into a narrative that has its roots in childhood.
As a boy living with his mom, the minister of a non-denominational church in the little town of Big Wells, Texas, Chavez fantasized about a mythical land called California. I knew this cute girl who was born in California. And I got this idea that all the hot women came from there. I mean, I was maybe twelve years old, and David Lee Roth was covering California Girls, and so I had this weird fantasy about the place.
California remains the scene of Chavezs paintings. Its a fantasyland, filled with supernal sexualitybut also with trolls. Its a decadent land, almost an island, Chavez says of the fantastic California. It makes me want the stuff I hate.
Wanting stuff he hates is at the root of much of Chavezs work. The creation of his books, for example, stems from a desire for the detestable, a fascination with the fearful, and a delight in the dirty. He talks about the evolution of TROLL/Dirty Flowers, a collection of stark, unsettling ink drawings that are at once comical and horrific. This books pages feature bloodletting logs protruding from inverted ponds, freakish gorillas in a primordial hunting scene, disembodied shark maws hovering like parodies of the Cheshire Cats grin, and ghoulish troll heads sprouting flowers from gaping pores. Chavez revisits these themes through a constantly evolving narrative of obsession.
Chavezs 2001 book Twinners (now in the SAICs Joan Flasch Artists Book Collection), tells the tale of a pair of tragedy-prone pals who cant stop skinning their knees and slicing their hands on the sharp arcs of rainbows. The garish pigments of the prints inside the book contrast with the oatmeal-colored cover, made of a textured rubber resembling overexposed guts. An umbilical cord connects the cover to a vibrating mechanism, making for a visceral reading experience.
Chavez opens TROLL/Dirty Flowers with a story written in increments, each numbered section of the text corresponding to a page of drawing. Vacillating between the corny/romantic and the dirty/horrific, the lines introduce the reader to such uncanny characters as the Three Blood Logs, the EYE, the TROLL, and the DIRTY. Unconventional syntax enhances the confusion of sexual excitement, anxiety, and loathing: [28 & 29]
I with capable limbs could never possess the charms of TROLL. I stared as her large breasts ascended to large globes as TROLL left her body. What a sight to behold! The liquids were dark and hard to identify as if I were a baby in a tub for the first time
 It grew despite the hate you have for it.
This combination of hatred and love, fear and fascination, is again at work in Explanations. Chavez describes this book as a survey of contemporary raunch and ritual, where abstract spirals of iridescent colors juxtapose with the sepia tones of an appropriated photo capturing a Peruvian religious rite. Elsewhere the promiscuous troll heads appear. They possess frolicking cavemen chasing after glowing blue orbs in a scene of primordial play; they obscure the faces of buxom adult idols; they drip Day-Glo gore from their own severed necks as they hover against a matte black background.
Hated and feared, but ultimately captivating, these infernal troll heads are also Chavezs talismans, spectral icons infused with a magic that possesses the artist who conjures it.
Talismans: Gifts of a Troll Lover
Chavez also conjures his caboodle of troll heads in large acrylic and oil paintings, which he thinks of as cinematic illustrations or movie posters of the characters. Here the ribald troll faces mask zaftig adult movie stars Lolo Ferrari and Wendy Whoppers. And the stars nipples, like their faces, are nowhere to be found. Replaced by the glaring plumage of opulent red flowers, the nipples are the focus of the viewers gaze but also obscured objects of desire. The result is an alluring and flummoxing series of canvases as compelling and repellent as Chavez wants them to be.
In Lolo Ferrari Possessed, the massive globes of a porn stars inflated bosom are aggressively incongruous, impossible to ignore. But the nipples remain under conspicuous cover of two encysted blooms whose roots seem almost to surface in the painterly strokes that render the breasts purple veins.
Theres not really any nudity in these paintings, Chavez comments. But although the flowers censor, they also bring out the shame. Theyre trying to hide the naughty, but they also make it dirtier. In a single gesture, the ostentatious blossoms covering the nipples also call attention to them, hiding and heightening the vulgarity.
Egregiously sexual and yet never nudeits this paradox of illusion and disillusionment that Chavez is so fond of: What remains hidden is exaggerated in the hiding, and whats lost returns in a monstrous form. These are sexy women, Chavez says, but its sexiness taken so far that its scary. Its like horror, this sexiness, this fascination. Its alluring but kind of repulsive.
In Gift of the Troll Lover, a ghoulish green haze hides the features of a once lovely lady, leaving her looking queasily amphibious. Some people think its a mask, Chavez said of the hand-painted pall over the silkscreened figure. Later, he mentions masks again. You know, when youre a kid, a stupid rubber mask or a doll can be pure horror. Thats magic, and childhood. You connect with plastic objects, and theyre the worst horror.
Theres always something evil about toys, Chavez continues. How do kids learn to be afraid of their dolls? Surrounded by recursive troll headstalismans of his own creationChavez tells a story that seems part of a repertoire of grief and humor, loss and seeking. When he was a kid, he says, he had a favorite toy, a monster doll that was a gift from his mother. But eventually my mom decided it was bad, Chavez explains. She thought it was evil, so she burned it.
He keeps his eye out for it everywhere now, still searching for that loathed and beloved monster. I want to find that toy, he laughs. Im always trying to get my stupid toy back.
Mariano Chavez: Talismaniac
Linda Warren Gallery
1052 W Fulton Market
May 16 - June 20, 2008; opening reception May 16, 6 - 9pm