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November 13-December 3, 2004 at Hamilton Galleries, Santa Monica

by Kathy Zimmerer

In the best tradition of Latin American surrealists, Esau Andrade works with a variety of symbols and adeptly twists their meanings. Pop culture and potent Latino images are all merrily compressed into candy-colored canvases that are a vibrant reflection of the artist’s mood. Born in Tepic Nayarit, Mexico, Andrade comes from a folk art background, and both his mother Guadalupe Valencia and brother Raymondo Andrade are also artists. He is mainly a self-taught painter, although he did attend La Escuela de Artes Plasticas de la Universidad de Guadalajara. Although strongly influenced by two of the giants of Mexican art, Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, Andrade manages to inject his own childlike exuberance into these stylized, quirky paintings.

Donde Esta is one of the strongest paintings on view. Against a glowing gold background, a skull and an eye are separated by a keyhole and a rope barrier, and float in an eerie limbo. The theme is mysterious, yet the lush color and schematic composition act to reinforce his connections to folk art.

Some of his paintings are versions of the Mexican card game, Loteria, where many different whimsical objects are contained in squares arranged around a focal point. Bursting with primary colors and astrological signs, Los Signos revolves around a central rectangle that contains a young girl in peasant costume standing on the world. A scorpion, a crab, a bull exist in this compressed and layered grid of brilliant colors and ancient symbols.

In the delightful El Barco all the quintessential playful elements of Andrade’s work--the doll like figures, the toy ship, the mermaid swimming alongside, and the tiny trumpeter announcing the ship’s arrival--merge to create a charming and colorful tableau. His effortless skill at color and composition make this a quirky folk art entrée.

"Los Signos," 2004, oil
on canvas, 60 x 48".

"Tiempo," 2004, oil
on canvas, 72 x 60".

"de Viaje" (1 of 3), 2004,
acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16".

"Huevo Cabalgando" (3 of 3), 2004,
acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16".

His other vein of work, while using the same symbols, reflects a deeper understanding of his cultural images. In Tiempo. . . an old-fashioned steam engine barrels through a deserted village, which is seen through a veil of flowers that cascade from the sky, dripping blood. One of his luminous still lifes has many layers of dark and light that fluctuate on the horizon, and mysterious writing that forms other layers so the whole becomes more complicated than a bowl of pears. In Tu a beautiful woman’s head floats in an eerie desert landscape filled with splashes and splatters of paint, and an elegant border of handwriting forms a frame around her. Also noteworthy is Quizas where a woman pops out of a bleeding, sacred heart like a genie out of a bottle.

Unlike the candy colored confections of his more stylized folk art paintings, these other works by Andrade place him firmly in the surrealist tradition shared by many Latin masters. He retains a naiveté and originality with quirky images that are both charming and serious, and also remain indebted to his rich culture for visual symbols that are vivid and intense.