By JONATHAN OROZCO, September 2022
Los Angeles-based artist Timo Fahler takes us back to church with his ongoing series of stained-glass artworks.
While in residence at the Omaha exhibition space Maple St. Construct, Fahler began a series that would later morph into highly figurative and colorful glass sculptures. His show “precarious as obtained by entreaty or prayer” displayed compositions inspired by Carravagio’s The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, ranging from linear, geometric, and even totally abstracted.
“The works in Omaha technically and materially were a step before the stained glass work,” Fahler says. “Some of those [works] were hung in the middle of a room, and you were able to see both sides. I didn’t leave the show thinking I needed to make stained glass work - I did leave it with inspiration on light, on transparency, and translucency.”
Finding himself in a transition space, he wanted to find a way to jump from plaster to another medium. Speaking to a friend in India prompted Fahler to experiment with this new material.
Since then, Fahler’s practice has been characterized by metaphor. His pieces often look like windows from a Medieval Catholic Church with Indigeneous American imagery. Others are masks or skins suspended from hands, invoking references to control and marionette dolls.
The origins of stained glass are a point of fascination for the artist. Rather than being neutral decorative objects, they served the proselytizing interests of the church ensuring it retained its dominion over Europe’s population. The process was purely visual, using images to convey supernatural power to churchgoers sitting on pews.
“Think about the church almost stealing the sun,” Falher continues. “They stole the ultimate tool and turned it into a tool of religion. I can't imagine what it must have been like to go into a church for the first time and see this thing when you haven't seen synthetic color. I would have believed whatever it was telling me.”
These objects are at once graphic and symbolic and refer to the alterego and code switching. Like many Mexicans in the U.S., Fahler was treated as an outsider. There were only two Mexicans in his elementary school class - the other being his brother. It was only after being called slurs by his white counterparts, “spic” or “wetback”, that Fahler realized he was different to them.
This is a major point in his Alter Ego series, consisting of appropriated imagery from canonical European paintings, but also the Mexican and White American imagination.
Among the compelling pieces of art history that has leaked into popular culture is Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Bartholomew the Apostle, one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus, is depicted holding his skin after being flayed.
Fahler took this image and made it with glass, while making it his own by placing a 3D rendering of his face on it.
“I sensed the importance and experience of the alter ego when I first moved away from Tulsa,” Fahler said. “I took away a one man band experience with me. It was called Mi Primo Sucio [My Dirty Cousin in Spanish]. I played with my cousin a little bit, but it was more about an alter ego experience of me playing a musician playing a story.
“There was always facepaint and costuming elements involved. It was always a presentation of something outside myself. It is about this imagery, an embodiment of something that I can’t really present myself as, but as a safety mechanism, it is there. It is a face that I wear at times, it is a thing I can relate to.”
Equally so, the works are just as much about Mestizaje, a 20th century racial theory that can be thought of as a “melting pot,” a mixing European and Indigenous imagery.
In an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, Fahler, in collaboration with fellow Los Angeles-based artist Rafa Esparza, displayed pieces that looked as though they were pulled out of churches, all with ancient Indigenous iconography taken from Mexica and Aztec codices.
“Timo’s work has a generative tension,” Esparza says. “There’s a history of that kind of work taken up by Chicanos and Chicanas. Beyond that, there’s this legacy of preserving traditions and culture.”
In this way, the work is informed by the concepts of homecoming in the 60s-70s by Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles. The result being objects that are at one reflective and transparent and deeply embedded in the Mexican and American psyche.
“I’m thinking about negative impact and negative sentiment and how we can evolve as humans,” Fahler says. “I know that's a cliché, but I feel like we're dealing with this problem right now, both globally and in the United States, that is, a polarizing experience between wrong and right. and I say wrong and right, but it can be other terms, it can be right and left, it can be Christian and non-Christian, it can be so many things. It’s like there are hard line yes and no’s, and I think it’s a dangerous place for us to come to, for us to have lost the ability to have a conversation.” WM
Jonathan Orozco is an independent writer based in Omaha, Nebraska. He received his art history BA from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2020. Orozco runs an art blog called Art Discourses, which primarily covers Midwest artists and exhibitions.view all articles from this author