By VITTORIA BENZINE, February 2023
For Gonzalo García, dreamy, erotic tangles of flowers, limbs, and creatures all start with drawing — especially of an anatomical bent. Not unequivocally, though. The Mexico City-based painter could trace his creative roots back to his grandmother’s hard-won art practice, too. García’s latest show, “Flesh,” just opened at CAM Galeria in Mexico City, commingling common threads with new developments in the artist’s amalgamations, centered on his distinct gay experience.
“García reveals the ever-present ghosts of our past and present in a delicate swirl of color, light, and flesh,” curator Charles Moore writes in wall text at the show’s start. “These deeply visceral displays of animals, bodies and mythological creatures come to life in a palette of soft tones in his oil paintings.” The show also includes drawings, and wallpapers García painted in acrylic.
The artist grew up in Puebla, a two-hour drive southeast of Mexico City. His studio is in the city’s stylish Roma Norte neighborhood, close to where he operates La Guerrera — a gallery promoting young Mexican painters that also hosts residencies for such artists in Mexico City.
Growing up, the fierce spirit of García’s grandmother inspired him. As a woman in the 1940s, she struggled to make an independent living off her artwork, though that hardly stopped her. García’s grandmother studied chemistry and owned her own pharmacy instead, played the requisite harmony to his grandfather’s stoic demeanor. After separating, García’s grandmother continued making lithographs of flowers and steeds, honoring her former husband’s horse farm.
When García was earning his bachelor’s in visual art from the Instituto Allende University in Guanajuato, he actually focused on etching, deepening his lifelong relationship with drawing’s endless potential by approaching image-making from a new orientation. Painting proved more accessible after graduation. It also opened new avenues of color and texture in his expressions.
Throughout García’s career, he’s arranged contorted body parts into compositions of numerous complementarities — masculine and feminine, disturbing and arousing, violent and tender. In the beginning, García sourced imagery from photographs and other snatched moments of himself in pose, a critical means for self exploration. Sometimes, he would portray himself as his female friends or family. Then, he started culling source imagery directly from his loved ones.
“They have this tension about the drama of being homosexual in Mexico,” García said of those early works. “Now my work is talking about the same things in a more specific, quieter way.”
García has been awarded Mexico’s prestigious FONCA (National System of Creators) four times in his career. Shortly after his first grant, in 2013, the artist began decidedly sourcing concepts from his own culture. Around that time, he recalled, Mexico’s drug war intensified — between that year and the next, Crisis Group has found, the number of armed groups in the country skyrocketed 50%. Many artists started exploring violence as a result, García said.
His enquiries started in Mexico’s student protests of the late 1960s, which culminated — and ultimately ended — with the Tlatelolco massacre of October 1968, where president Díaz Ordaz’s forces murdered pupils in Mexico City just before the summer olympics arrived in town.
“After that massacre, people were very afraid,” García said. Former Díaz Ordaz secretary Luis Echeverría Álvarez assumed the presidency in 1970, and set about cleaning the government’s image. “He was the one that gave the order to kill the students, but people didn’t know,” García continued. Álvarez devised a government program to fund filmmakers for his scheme.
Societal stress became a family issue. Mexican films funded by Álvarez’s efforts throughout the 1970s depicted the country’s vast new middle class unpacking greater issues in their own homes, rather than in the streets. During the pandemic, that detail gained new depth. Around then, García started painting female figures, like a few across “Flesh,” inert from stress in bed.
Wallpapers proved a natural next step in expanding those themes — one with a relationship to Mexican cinema of the 1970s, too . García found particular inspiration in “The Castle of Purity” (1973) by Arturo Ripstein, called the “Godfather of independent Mexican cinema” for his somber melodramas. The director utilized wallpapers, García said, to provide indirect characterization.
As such, these wallpapers offer more insight into the artist’s own life, evoking interiors he faintly remembers from apartments around Mexico City growing up. “It's like a memory, but at the same time the wallpapers are not accurate,” he said. “They play with your memories.” The works could hail from a viewer’s own experience, or maybe a catalog they once saw in passing.
Either way, García heightens the effect by affixing these works so it appears they’ve either decayed with time, or that they’re the true wall, and the white cube is the facade. Near the show’s start, one wallpaper’s exposed aubergine underside perfectly matches its surroundings, completing the confusion. Another scrap is framed. The rest set the scene for García’s recent paintings and drawings.
“A lot of the figures are female, but only because you can guess that they're female,” García said of his precarious compositions. The only sexual organs to appear are penises — carving contemporary space for the less aestheticized organ’s due, while honoring the artist’s lust.
“The subtle things about the work are feminine, but the erotic aspects are very masculine, and very homosexual,” García said. “That's my experience, that's the way that I see the world.” It’s an interesting idea. Is desire on its own masculine?
Every painting starts with a drawing — an exploration underpinning a plan, a balance of both. Logic is the masculine’s traditional purview, but drawing’s endless potential leans feminine.
García is open to other artforms continually impacting his visual practice. His boyfriend is a theater actor, for instance. “I'm getting bored of the natural representation of people,” the artist added, citing Cecily Brown’s abstractions for future exploration. García does not expect, however, to stray from using his friends as sources. Community is a pillar of queer culture.
“The people around me are the most inspiring to me,” he said. That’s how it all started, after all. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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