The dog sits expectantly, staring at you. He could be waiting for something – a walk, a treat – or could be just obeying your command to put his haunches on the ground. But that matters less than the fact that this pooch has his gaze locked on yours. That's one of the things we really like about dogs, isn't it? That they connect with people. Dogs are there for us: playing with us, guarding us, comforting us, loving us.
So when you look at the first painting in Andrea Muñoz Martinez's new solo show at Link & Pin Gallery, and there's this canine looking back at you, you feel some sense of attachment, maybe even reassurance. Wherever this art exhibition takes you, you're gonna be okay. There's a dog.
The "wherever" you're taken is Borderlandia, a mythical territory that Muñoz Martinez named to represent the areas around Uvalde in South Texas and Piedras Negras in Coahuila, Mexico. Having grown up there, fished and hunted there, struggled and thrived there, and known those who have made the journey across the Rio Grande there, she's drawn to the land and its people as subjects for her art. So she paints Borderlandia in what she considers landscapes, though she acknowledges they're not conventional ones – they show no rivers, trees, or mountains in the distance. Instead, they're covered from edge to edge in small marks of vibrant colors, repeated over and over and over, usually with two colors alternating – orange and green, green and blue, blue and black – in dozens of tiny rows or circular starbursts. For Muñoz Martinez, these abstractions are not only a way for her to depict the land she calls home, but to take a space often characterized as dangerous and dark and infuse it with bright hues of joy and hope.
And indeed, almost all of the 17 paintings on display here uplift with their colors: the yellows of hand-churned butter, the oranges of fresh produce, the reds of gemstone rubies, the blues of summer Texas skies. Even when the tones are muted – antique rose, olive, plum – they have a natural charm. And the way they interact in their side-by-side boxes, each hue vibrating against the other, generates a pleasant buzz.
In each work, Muñoz Martinez typically gives us multiple sets of color to captivate the eye, sets laid out in horizontal strips, one atop the other like layers of sediment. In several paintings, the boxes are so minute and squeezed so tightly together that they give the impression of being woven, like baskets or blankets. This may be another way the artist ties Borderlandia to her home. On her website, she speaks of her mother having filled their home with textiles that "created a soothing environment" and of adding her own "threads of color to the fabric woven by my mother, my father, and those that came before them."
Borderlandia, then, is a place of warmth and affection, tradition and devotion – and the dogs are part of that. So whatever darkness and pain of border life may lie behind the vivid colors of Muñoz Martinez's paintings, those canine companions are present to stand by us – or sit, as the case may be – as we face it and to provide the protection and comfort we need. The artist presents the dogs as ghostly creatures. Some, like the one in the show's first work, Sit, are as simply rendered as pooches in a New Yorker cartoon: pure white bodies outlined in neon yellow or purple, with two circles for eyes and a larger circle for a nose. They're goofy (no, not that Goofy) and fun, but it looks as if they're based on actual dogs that Muñoz Martinez knows, so they're also rather sweet. Two other dogs are rendered naturalistically, but are only heads floating supernaturally within the frame. Still, they stare out at us from their astral home, like all the rest, ready to be our guide through Borderlandia and if necessary, do what the exhibition title says they can: heal.
Who's a good dog? That's a good dog.
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