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November 19, 2005 - January 7, 2006, at Patricia Correia Gallery, Santa Monica

by Shirle Gottlieb

José Orozco, “San Martin Joins
the Circus,” 2005, acrylic on
iron cast bank, 7 x 8 1/2 x 3”.

José Orozco, “Mouth of Hell Takes
a Bike Ride,” 2005, acrylic on plastic
toy and clay, 7 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 8 1/2”.

José Orozco, “Mill Mascaras Visits
the Dentist,” 2005, acrylic on iron
cast bank, 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 3”.

Although Jose Orozco has a PhD from Harvard and is a respected Professor of Latin American history at Whittier College, he still finds time to create delightful kinetic toy sculptures that charm adults as much--I dare say more--than they do children.

Constructed in the folk art tradition of cochinadas kineticas, Orozco’s one-of-a-kind, mixed-media, mechanized toys straddle two disparate worlds. While they certainly reference the cherished, handmade traditional toys of his Mexican-American heritage, they make such wicked social commentary on contemporary culture that visitors to the gallery can’t stop laughing.

Calling himself a Post-Modern “santero,” Orozco constructs his saints and sinners like the “santeros” before him; but his imagery (with it’s intellectual wit and irreverent bite) is wildly different.

In this first solo show, “Automata from Heaven & Hell,” Orozco’s cast of comical characters are engaged in hilarious activities that reflect today’s reality, all of them instantly recognizable.

Some of Orozco’s brightly colored kooky toys (made from found objects molded with clay) resemble the puppets on Sesame Street. “Stairway to Hell,” for example, depicts a conveyor belt of tiny children rolling into the big gaping smile of the greedy Cookie Monster; while in “Mouth of Hell: Green,” little devils lead naked bodies to a hairy green monster whose eyes pop out as he stuffs them into his mouth.

There are several off-the-wall references to capitalism in Orozco’s work. “Basquiat Visits the Dentist” is constructed around a cast iron bank where the dentist (representing the devil and money) is pulling out all the artist’s teeth. “San Martin Joins the Circus” depicts the saint on top of a toy coin bank in a trick dog show.

By complete contrast, “L.A. in Black & White” consists of a dozen stark paintings and drawings by Roberto Gutiérrez, who is devoted to depicting the landscape of East Los Angeles as viewed by the Latino population that now inhabits it.

Described by Cheech Marin as “The Urban Landscaper of Los Angeles,” Gutiérrez came to painting late in his difficult life after a chance involvement with Self Help Graphics. Being observant of the world around him (then recording what he saw on canvas) opened his eyes, heart and soul to new ways of seeing. That, in turn, resulted in his determination to be an artist.

In this exhibit, Gutiérrez concentrates on the shifting scenes of the East Side and downtown Los Angeles as it goes through rapid industrial change after a long period of wanton neglect.

Working with gouache and ink, watercolors, and acrylics, he captures his cityscapes in layers of flat pattern that are juxtaposed with images of frenetic lines of electric poles and wires, street lights, construction sites, and palm foliage.

One of the highlights of this show is “Urban Education,” a clear vision of a light, utopian world as viewed from inside a dark, silhouetted, barbed wired encampment. Another winning composition is “East Los Angeles: City Terrace Drive,” which depicts a far distant view of downtown L.A. from across the vast pattern of roof-tops that separate the two areas.

This series of black and white work is surely a love sonnet to the neighborhood Gutiérrez calls home. It’s a paean to the area that bears witness to the lives and struggles of different immigrant populations that have lived in East L.A. since its inception.

Roberto Guitiérrez, "East Los Angeles:
Blanchard & Evergreen Streets,"
2005, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48"

Roberto Guitiérrez, "Bunker,"
2005, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20".

Roberto Guitiérrez, "Urban Education,"
2005, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24".