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January 19 - February, 2007 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood

by Andy Brumer

Argentinean artist Antonia Guzman displays a body of sophisticated and thought-provoking imagery titled “El Otro/The Other.”  This work reflects her ongoing explorations, observations and insights into the issues of immigration and isolation as they apply to those living in exile in an adopted country.  More specifically, it comes directly out of Guzman’s participation in L.A.’s huge March 2006 demonstration protesting a proposed federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

While one can read these lusciously hued acrylic and watercolor paintings within this social/political context, they also hold up sturdily as soulful abstractions executed with deft technique and bountiful sensitivity.  Actually, the work delivers its most potent punch when the personal and political vectors embrace, conflict, and perhaps even contradict one another.  Like a couple dancing the tango, the elements in these compositions divide, then spar pluckily to reunite, while insisting on their individuality.

Composed for the most part of rectangular, overlapping blocks, often gapped like torn walls to form fathomless precipices, fractured columns, and severed stairways, the paintings create architectural environments somewhat reminiscent of jigsaw puzzles, whose pieces seem to  want to join together and  further separate simultaneously. Paul Klee-like arrows, usually pointing in opposite directions, reinforce the metaphor of the exiled person, who feels pulled away from their old home and towards a new one at the same time. Yet, perhaps ironically, these paintings present themselves less as threatening labyrinths than inviting garden paths.  It’s as if by embracing the challenges that face “the other,” they mitigate some of the immigrant’s anguish.

Guzman quotes liberally from some of the most recognizable icons of twentieth-century European, American and Latin American art, which she skillfully composes into works of refreshing originality. One finds echoes of Picasso’s analytic cubism that is set aglow spiritually via a Tamayo-esque modulated pallet of fiery reds, somber ochres, and muted earthy greens, grays and blues.  Viewers will recognize a heroic, existential statement in this work, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock and Barnet Newman, then relax into Guzman’s playful forms, whose improvisational dancing suggests (again) Klee and Henri Matisse, especially calling to mind the latter’s paper cutout collages.  The paintings also allude to design patterns found in Nazca textiles, as well as those of ancient Incan stone buildings.

"Otro pendular," 2006, acrylic
on canvas, 36 x 17".

"El marginal," 2006, acrylic
on canvas, 32 x 40".

"La partida," 2006, acrylic
on canvas, 36 x 24".

"El instante," 2005, acrylic
on canvas, 28 x 48".

In a statement, Guzman writes: “The Other can be the different one, the third in a discord, the foreigner, or the son that breaks up a couple.  There is always an ‘other.’  The matter is in which form ‘the other’ can be incorporated or rejected from his/her landscape and surrounding, but there will always be an ‘other.’”

Certainly a painting represents an intimate and intense exchange between it and its maker, which automatically establishes the viewer as an exiled “other.”  That Guzman provides amble space in her work (both literally and figuratively) for outsiders’ safe entry into it marks both her paintings’ achievement and humanity.