(1) Sol Aquino, "Simon Says," acrylic on canvas,
(2) Sol Aquino, "Lit", acrylic on canvas, 1995.
by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.
(Patricia Correia Gallery, West Side)
(Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica) Sol Aquino has a bad attitude and
that's what makes his art so good. Forget being safe. He doesn't try to
recycle art historical styles or take safe intellectual sojourns. It is
a pleasure to see an artist who is willing to explore the trouble humankind
is in while still maintaining a sense of humor. Aquino is a jester who pokes
fun at the various injustices that we so often choose to ignore.
The artist has been exploring the darker side of the human experience for over a decade. His art is concerned with universal themes, not just the plight of one segment of society. Like the Greek myths that were used to instruct the people, Aquino's paintings serve the same function, reminding us of our duties to ourselves and the generations to follow. We are reminded of artists like Honore Daumier and his scathing attacks on the French government (and those who served it) during the nineteenth century, as well as Francisco Goya and his etchings. While one might turn to Goya's Los Caprichos, it is really works like The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters that Aquino's work most closely resemblences. It is not style that we are talking about, but intent.
Aquino is a story teller who paints, and by using humor and sublty is worthy of our attention. He avoids heavy-handedness and never allows anger to enter his narrative--either of which would dilute his message.
Color and love of pigment are central to Aquino's work. He captures his viewers first utilizing a bold, high-keyed palette. This is a reminder, not only of the artist's Mexican heritage, but of the profound impact that Mexican culture and artists have had on generations of Southern California artists. Brilliant blues, deep reds and electric yellows fill his canvases, making them seem to vibrate. The pigment is applied with what appears to be great gusto and joy, which conveys a love of the medium and imparts a feeling of substance and import to the surface. The juxtaposition of lights and darks is made even more dramatic by the clash of colors, which adds energy to an image. It is against this background that Aquino's little morality plays are presented.
Aquino loves to comment upon the material-based world that Americans and, particularly, Southern Californians have embraced with an almost religious zeal (one must acknowledge Josep Renau, a Spanish expatriate who lived most of his life in Mexico, and who is famous for his photographic collages condemning American consumerism, as a clear predecessor of Aquino's; but Renau's works are seething with an anger that verges on hatred--making them painful to view). And it is not just every man in a business suit towards whom the artist directs his contempt, but those who patronize the artists themselves. Of course Aquino is hardly the first artist to poke fun at his own audience; there has always been a love-hate relationship between those who create and those who collect.
By utilizing cartoon-like figures based on geometric forms, Aquino is able to keep his work light and playful. The primitive feel to the figure's execution, whose edges are not sharply deliniated, avoids diluting thc energy created by the color and pigment. The crudeness of his style gives it a universal appeal, making it accessible to all, not just the art literate. In Simon Says, the childhood game takes on a deeper psychological meaning. Here a grown man and a woman "play" the game, with the woman following the man's lead. The demonic grin of the man with his hands positioned to "push" the woman give it a sinister feeling. This is compounded by her crude sexual composition, emphasizing her breasts and genitals much like early Greek Cycladic figures. The figures' placement, which strains to remain within the picture plane, add an uncomfortable edge to the composition. However, the palette is subdued with only a hint of his trademark bold colors, here red and blue, emerging from the background. The feeling of unrestrained energy, a key ingredient in so many of his works, has also been turned down, creating a deeply introspective image. We are left to figure out what "game" is being played and just what the rules might be.
Aquino's work is a blend of many influenees from the cultures that make up this region. Playful and colorful on the one hand, they are also important reminders of the values that matter in our lives.