La Virgen de Califas

Jos? Antonio Aguirre's new series of work is a Mexican American post-modern mestizaje

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: June 10, 2003

La Virgen de Califas

When hearing about a male artist creating another series of the Virgen, one could not help but think of Renaissance painters who created the Madonna. On her arm was a smiling white baby. Her eyes were dimly open. Her head and her arms were all covered with long sleeves and an intimating bright halo around her serene head.

Images of La Virgen de Califas by artist Jos? Antonio Aguirre, on the other hand, at the Mexican Cultural Institute show her as naked, fiery, a skull with a green cape, red beaks, and needle-pointed halo beams.

Once you walk into the exhibit, beyond the stunning pictures of the Virgen Califas, some nude, some on fire, and some with skull with countenances of agony, the most interesting display was the mixed media. There was one display in the center like a swing in a playground. On four lines of strings hung four rows of plastic cups. Some had the images replicated from the painting. The cups hung on the four strings like laundry. Near the center of the lines were several paper paintings of extreme contrasting colors of each of the images on the walls. On the floor was a red cloth, like a red skirt you surround a Christmas tree with. On the red cloth were five cups all in an arrangement. Outside the red boundary were more cups facing each other as though pointing towards the direction of a wind.

One painting is a 39 x 30 monoprint made entitled Lupe Trinidad. Of the three heads, one is asleep, one has her mouth open, and one is a skull. The three heads are centered with a red heart. The heart stands on a thin elaborating bone. The colors purple and yellow dominate the background. It reminds me of a woman as though she was pregnant, waiting in a long bathroom line, and giving birth to alien triplets: I too have made the scowl before Monday morning term paper deadlines. A white skull with red eyes and a red pointed beak stammers to be noticed. She is like a pin cushion of sunbeam needles. She has a green hood over her brown hair, no loose hairs falling on her forehead. She has purple crevices on her face. She looks like a porcupine. The contrast of the bold curves and the contrasting lines between thick and demure, some angrily straight, and others ready to escape the frame suggest the energy and influence of Virgen Califas. It suggests boldness to the demure Virgen de la Guadalupe.

Virgen Resustado (2001) oil on canvas work is an enormous painting. It looks as though it was sketched with chalk on a black sidewalk. The body has contrasting strokes of brown, auburn, tan, with white and red outlines. Around the brown nude figure are spiky orange blazes. Around the orange blazes is a surrounding yellow halo resembling background. Then surrounding the yellow is a darkening black area with strokes of cool molten red. The woman has closed her eyes in rest with her head tilted to her left. She has a long mane that falls behind her neck. Like the three-headed work Lupe Trinidad, there is a black hole spinning in swirling red and white at the collarbone. Connecting the neckline to the birth canal is a long limb of a muscle to suggest continuity between neck and birth or voice and creation. The muscle emphasizes physical strength of the Virgen. She possesses endurance and strength. But the hands are significantly away from the view as if to suggest they were behind her back. The gesture is not a begging supplication but an assertive acceptance shown with the white creasing eyebrows. The body stops at the knees. The knees are not kneeling. Between the space above her head and the knees cut off at the bottom frame, there is an imbalance of top and bottom.

?The Chicano version of the Virgen,? was what one observer, Juan Gaitan, interpreted of the work. ?When California was established, we kept a lot of our Mexican roots. One was the Virgen of the Guadalupe.?

He pointed to the last series of paintings themed ?Apparitions of Califas? with photographs of prisoners? tattoos combined with the reminiscent images of Aguirre?s paintings of La Virgen Califas to show the culture as becoming ?depressed? and the specific work was intended for ?hope.? What is interesting is that the bodies of the inmates were obviously all male and the Virgen was the only female factor of the work. He commented the artist possessed ?strong understanding of the Chicano culture.?

Artist Jose Antonio Aguirre was born in Mexico. He was a resident of Los Angeles for fifteen years. He was educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has a Master?s at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. His current projects include a mural project at the East Los Angeles Public Library.

The work is syncretic: combining the pre-Columbian ideas and the modern Mexico-U.S. world, an example of ?Mexican American post-modern mestizaje.?

Jos? Antonio Aguirre?s La Virgen de Califas exhibition will run until July 27th. The exhibit is at the Art Gallery of the Mexican Cultural Institute at 125 Paseo de la Plaza, Olvera Street, Los Angeles 90012 (213) 624-3660.The exhibition is open to the public and no admission is charged. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-5pm. Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm. Parking is plentiful. For MTA bus riders, the destination is Union Station.

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