‘Pulse: Oscar Riquelme’
Oscar Riquelme's paintings in the exhibition 'Pulse' are attractive, accessible, well composed, and layered in subtle politics
Reviewed by Rachel Koper, Fri., Feb. 24, 2006
Pulse: Oscar Riquelme
F8 Gallery, through March 25
Sheep and shepherds are mentioned 247 times in the Bible, but what is the meaning of Oscar Riquelme's painting series called Herd Behavior? Sheepishly cute, his use of traditional sepia washes encourages the implication of pastoral bliss and barn paintings. Each sheep painting includes a square of burlap, and its texture works in the piece on several levels, both literally, as reference to the texture of wool and the rough linen that is gessoed by oil painters, and as a politically charged focal window.
Currently on view at F8 Gallery is a three-artist show called "Pulse." It features fairly humorous photographs by Faustinus Deraet, taken in Mexico City. A series of metal- and wood texture-based compositions by Randall Reid show a Lance Letscher-like attention to color and distressed materials. Oscar Riquelme exhibits oil paintings for the last time in Austin before he moves to NYC. The ambitious Riquelme shows three large-scale paintings, the sheep series, and on the back wall a series called Red Suspension, featuring photo-transfers of Communist leaders on glass. Each face is hinged and when lifted reveals a square of text quotations floating inside. In a statement the artist says, "The portraits of historical characters appear translucent, almost fading into the air. In contrast, a representation of their thoughts incased behind their ghostly images remain, transcending the figures' mortality. Because the perception of reality has become skewed, it is not surprising that the agendas of the unions and of the civil rights movement have grown stagnant and have, in many cases, become obliterated." After viewing the Communists, I went back to the sheep paintings, and political commentary abounded.
In a pamphlet published in Lithuania in December, 1941, the Holocaust-resistance leader and Hebrew poet Abba Kovner used the phrase "like sheep to the slaughter" to encourage Jewish people to become politically active and to fight the Nazi empire. Now, Riquelme is South American and versed in various forms of government. When viewed as political metaphor, these paintings take on a whole new light. The separation of one sheep from the rest of the flock or the inclusion of a black sheep among white ones makes a subtle statement about the role of the individual in society. How does one speak out against popular ideas? The sheeps' vacuous stares begin to feel more confrontational, as if by their direct gazes one is asked rather personal questions. One piece features three sepia-toned sheep huddled closely together staring straight out. The central foreground animal has a burlap square over its head and is painted in full color, but there's a red woven grid between its eyes. It creates a depth of field and possibly some kind of head wound. The piece is called Mind Trap. I think he's looking for the brains behind the zombified stare. His technique is decisive with clean direct strokes and thin surface layering. Riquelme's paintings are attractive, accessible, well composed, and layered in subtle politics.