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Through July 21, 2002 at Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach

by Shirle Gottlieb

Dividing his time between one studio in Santo Domingo and another in Paris, José García Cordero creates large-scale, "double entendre" paintings that reflect both the duality of his personal experience and the conflicts between European and Caribbean culture.

Also an eloquent poet/philosopher, this Dominican Republic native is inspired by Latin American authors as much as by visual artists. One glance at the 23 large-scale paintings in Situaciones Humanas/Human Conditions and you instantly feel the influence of Goya, Bruegel and Bosch--not to mention Magritte and Francis Bacon. Then when you look a little closer, you can see the visual equivalent of Jorge Borges' and Gabriel Marquez' style of writing.

To create his astonishing imagery, Cordero relies on the viewer's ability to respond to symbolic metaphor, allegory, irony and biting satire--plus both magic and social surrealism. Not only does he repeatedly depict himself treading water in dangerous territory, he also paints scores of sad-eyed little dogs in threatening life and death situations.

In Boat People IV, for example, the terrified dogs float on a raft through blood-red, shark-infested waters; while in Round Trip they swim for their lives through the fiery forests of hell.

It soon becomes evident that the self-portraits and the dogs are stand-ins for you, me and Everyman. Since there is no escape from the traumatic tribulations of life, we must survive anyway that we can.

In The Watchtower Cordero paints hundreds of eyes in the shape of a flesh-colored mound. Underneath it he inscribes: "The Watchtower is the watch that you don't watch me. . .absolute vigilance. . .the ancestral 'eye-for-an-eye' that reviews the present. . .at once the 'punish me punisher' and the 'punisher punished.'"

In the haunting landscape Only the Fillets Matter hundreds of fish heads are piled in front of dead trees that are silhouetted against the sky. "When the fish in the sea are gone" (he writes, making a socio-ecological statement), "the heads go to the pier in Punta Popa. . .where they are sold to the poor for soup."

By contrast, tourists on cruise ships that visit the Caribbean feast on the lavish assortment of island delicacies that Cordero paints in Still Life: Popa Beach House Interior II. (Observant viewers will notice the hungry dog hiding under the table waiting for any crumbs that come his way.)

Also included in Situaciones Humanas are several brown barren landscapes that carry serious subtexts. To wit: What eco-global conditions would cause a tropical island to become a lifeless desert?

Self Portrait in the Pool of Auvergne seems to sum things up. Submerged in a large ceramic pot (with only his eyes peering out from the water), Cordero tries to relax after an exhausting day of painting disturbing scenes that others will view at their leisure.

"I see for them," he says. "I look for them, decipher for them, and interpret things symbolically in the name of everyone."

He then concludes: "Dogs, baracudas, cultures of circumstances and delights. . .[my work depicts] situations that affect the nervous system and provoke laughter, astonishment and agitation. It's all about irony--a double-edged sword with which one says the opposite of what is meant."

Never mind if you've never heard of José García Cordero before (this is his first solo museum exhibit in the United States); once you enter the dangerous, double-edged world of his creative imagination in Situaciones Humanas, you will never forget him.

“Waiting for You," 2001, acrylic on linen, 79” x 99”.
Courtesy of Patrice Trigano Gallery, Paris,
France. Photo: Richard Dauthuille.

"Sólo el Filete les Importa, Only the Fillets
Matter,” 1996, acrylic on linen, 79 x 118”.
Collection of Luis Arturo Carbuccia, Sto. Domingo,
Dominican Republic. Photo: Richard Dauthville.

"Boat People IV" (detail), 1992-96,
acrylic on linen, 77” x 65”.
Collection of Nadim Padrón, Sto. Domingo,
Dominican Republic. Photo: Thiago Dacunha.

"Atado por la Carne, Bound by Meat,"
1998, acrylic on linen, 64” x 38”
Collection of Eduardo Alvarez, Sto. Domingo,
Dominican Republic. Photo: Eddy Guzmán.

“Autoretrato en Piscina de Auvergne, Self-Portrait
in the Pool of Auvergne”, 2001, a/c, 65 x 51”.
Photo: Richard Dauthville.