In this episode of Aquí y Allá, we wish to recognize and celebrate the fluidity of national identity, especially in the world of art and artists. National identity, in the case of the artists in Episode Three of Aquí y Allá, slips and slides, multiplies and divides, adds and subtracts, is always more—never less. One artist’s aquí when in Mexico might be theirs or another’s allá when positioned in LA. Or an artist might be from both aquí y allá and decline to be situated in any “place” at all. Aqui y alla, reflects Fisher’s Mexico-related collecting in that the artists included have either migrated to Mexico from elsewhere, live in Mexico and the United States, or spend significant time in both countries, calling each home. Still, all of the artists in the exhibition are, indeed, aquí, because their artworks are “at home” in Fisher’s collection. But they are also allá, or even aquí y allá -- depending on how they define themselves as people, and how they choose to live their lives.
Front-era (1999) by Marta Palau (Mexico, b. 1934 Spain)USC Fisher Museum of Art
The Fisher Museum had a rich relationship with Marta Palau.We held two exhibitions for her, the first an installation in our central large gallery and the second as a part of a three-person exhibition called The Human Condition. Born in 1934 in Albesa Spain, Palau was forced to leave her birthplace and move to Mexico when her father, a medical doctor and supporter of Spain's Republican government, fled the country. Their family migration was the result of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939 – one of the bloodiest conflicts in the first half of the twentieth century). Marta retained her denunciatory stance toward the Spanish government under Franco.Palau often talked about her devotion to Mexico and her gratitude to Lazaro Cardenas, President of Mexico from 1934-1940, for extending her and her family a new nationality. Palau has always been grateful for having been accepted in Mexico – and experienced Mexico as a place of refuge. This did not stop her however, from opposing the government of Mexico at the time of the student massacres in 1968.
Our permanent collection piece is a part of Palau’s long-standing interest in immigration and nomadism. Living in both Mexico City and Tijuana she witnessed emigrations from Mexico and Central America of people who had different reasons than the ones that forced her family from Spain. Still, she recognized the complex emotions of mixed longing and pain. Using materials such as wood sticks, cotton, feathers, charcoal, and mud applied to a painting, Front-era is poignant. It is a favorite of our visitors. Notably Palau has invented an artistic language that emerged from her experiences in Mexico rather than the European tradition.
“My life in Mexico was a surprise and an uncertain path that was born in 2017 when I traveled to Mexico City with my wife. It's already been four years of experiences in a new social context, although Mexico and Cuba share ties both politically and culturally. Fortunately, I can say that the courtesy and generosity in this country have not made me feel like a foreigner, a tourist or a migrant, but rather as another resident. Despite all the conflicts that I know many Mexicans continue to suffer, I admire that they continue to build a nation that does not forget its ancestral culture, while at the same time participating in postmodernity. Finally, this personal transition I have made has broadened my scope as an artist, although I assume insularity is an implicit feeling that continues to hang in my reality, no matter where I am.” Eduardo Leyva, 2021
Coexistencia (2019) by Eduardo Leyva Herrera (Cuban, b. 1982)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Coexistencia is a drawing made as a diptych. In this way, the piece indicates the separation between two forms or concepts in the eyes of the viewer. The structures represented in this piece are symbols of a world where opposing ideas "coexist".
RE-SOLUCIÓN (2011) by Eduardo Leyva Herrera (Cuban, b. 1982)USC Fisher Museum of Art
"In Re-solución I make use of the portrait to assemble a series on the varied identities embodied by some of my contemporaries. This piece is made with stamps, for example: VIA AEREA (AIR MAIL) and HECHO EN CUBA (MADE IN CUBA), the other portrait (not pictured here) in the Fisher collection. Utilizing this object as the central part of the piece creates a link between all those portrayed--friends and acquaintances-- with whom I shared certain circumstances in life- and the series itself. We all carry written [within us] disappointments, frustrations, but, above all, the idea that the solution to our existence was to migrate." Eduard Leyva
The Lives of Flowers (2019) by Laurie Litowitz (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
“Before I moved to Oaxaca in 1984 I had already lived in Aix-en-Provence, France, Venice, Italy, Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, Amsterdam, Holland, and Barcelona, Spain. I was ready to settle down and I was looking for a simpler life away from the consumer societies I had known. All that I did find in Oaxaca. Little by little I also discovered so much more. A week after I arrived, I met a Zapotec family living in their ancient traditional village. This relationship opened me up to different ways of being in the world. Some of the most extraordinary experiences in my life have been when the communication flows easily between two or more people who ostensibly have nothing in common. After all these many years living here of course, I have seen many changes, some positive and others certainly negative, however the essence of Oaxaca remains. Yes, tourists come and enjoy seeing the traditional aspects of life here, but these activities would continue even if they no longer came.” Laurie Litowitz, 2021
"The Lives of Flowers had a circuitous creation. During a visit to a dear friend in London one cold week in May, I spent much time “excavating” in his charming little garden. One of my last discoveries were these rotting flowers forgotten under a bush. I photographed them on his dirty aquamarine colored garden table. The original color photos are interesting but something else occurred when I converted them into black and white negative images. The dead insects on the table became stars and other cosmic phenomena." Laurie Litowitz
Untitled (2017) by James hd Brown (American, 1951 - 2020)USC Fisher Museum of Art
James hd Brown
James Brown epitomized the spirit of aquí y allá. Born in the United States, he moved with his wife to Oaxaca, settled and raised his family in Mexico. Nevertheless, he and his wife Alexandra were also nomadic in spirit. In his lifetime he exhibited extensively throughout Mexico and was always in artistic conversation with the artists who were born and worked there. After a long time living in Oaxaca, he moved to Mérida. His relationship with Oaxaca though was the longest. The physicality of the place had an enormous impact on him and his art. He lived large with the things of the place and he breathed the landscape. James and Alexandra both died in a car accident in Yucatán Mexico in 2019. They were going home to Mérida.
James Brown treasured the snake specimens and stone tools he collected in the fields surrounding his home. The atmosphere of Oaxaca infused his work both subliminally and highly consciously. The print that Brown made as a gift for Fisher is a direct reflection of his intimate and respectful relationship to the land and spirit of that place. Still, his identity remained mixed and he brought with him an art education that he had had in Los Angeles and Paris. He was influenced as much by art history and the contemporary artists he knew throughout the world and this print is a hybrid of those experiences. Still, I knew him well and his heart was most deeply anchored in Mexico.
House of the Mind (2020) by George Mead Moore (American, b. 1954)USC Fisher Museum of Art
“In 1984 I found myself living in Nicaragua. My wife Alice Christov had been hired as a radio correspondent for ABC Radio News to cover the Sandinista/US conflict. We rented a house in Managua and I set up a painting studio in the garage. I painted themes related to the conflict and with Salvadoran artists-in-exile Julio Reyes, Camillo Minero, and Alfonso Quijada, started the cultural review CODICES (El Centro de Documentación e Información Cultural de El Salvador). The same year our son Leo was born. By 1986, we moved back to New York City where I exhibited war-related paintings along with the work of 20 Central American artists. Several years later our Salvadoran friends from CODICES moved back to their country as a result of the Chapultepec Peace Accords which were a set of peace agreements signed on January 16, 1992, bringing an end to the Salvadoran Civil War. Three years later Alice, Leo, and our daughter Indiana moved to San Salvador ourselves where we and our Salvadoran friends started Intercambios Culturales de El Salvador, a cultural exchange project sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts. After two years of fundraising in the US, Intercambios opened a center in San Salvador with a public art library of 25,000 donated books, an exhibition space and a computer center sponsored by Apple Computer. Several years later, we donated the library collection to the Sala Nacional de Exposiciones in San Salvador where it still operates today. After five intense years with Intercambios we turned the project over to local management and moved to Oaxaca to raise our two young children. We were drawn to the visionary work of Francisco Toledo who was creating public institutions for the arts with an emphasis on education. Oaxaca is culturally old but demographically young. It is a very interesting place to be.” George Moore, 2020
In 2007 Alice and George lived in Madrid where marijuana was decriminalized. They grew several cannabis plants on their terrace and while harvesting the sativa, George started to draw, tracing the contours of the spiky leaves with pencil.
George notes, “It is a very relaxing way to make art. In fact, drawing gives me all the relaxation I need. In fact, I no longer smoke marijuana!”
Untitled (Standing figure) (1985) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Roberto Gil de Montes
“I was thirteen years old when I first went to Los Angeles, fifteen when our family moved to live there permanently. At first it was very difficult because I did not speak English. When I entered junior high school, I was put in classes for non-English speakers and shop classes, electrical, auto shop, and carpentry. I was very unhappy, then one day I saw an art classroom with paintings and went immediately to the counselor who herself was an art teacher and a painter, she was very encouraging and enrolled me in art history, painting and ceramics, taking art classes changed me, and gave me something to look forward to every day. I had very good teachers and one of our teachers would take us to La Cienega Blvd to the weekly art walk. I saw an exhibition by Andy Warhol and I was hooked to art making for life. All I needed then was to keep my relationship with Mexico. At 17 years old I had a job in the library of the school, I saved my money and when summer recess came, I would cross the border and take the train back to Guadalajara where I would visit the Orozco murals, and saw the wonderful folk art that became a strong influence in my art. I never stopped living in both countries.” Roberto Gil de Montes, 2021
This untitled etching from 1985 with aquatint is the first of the almost decade-long body of work that Fisher possesses of Roberto Gil de Montes. From 1985 to 1994 we see in this episode a coherent stream of printmaking. Aquatint, notoriously difficult to control, is one of Gil de Montes’ ways of nuancing his etchings. The figure here, masked and dressed in dapper clothing is presented in a vibrant urban/tropical setting. Seemingly in the midst of a hurricane or windstorm, this scene could be in any number of Mexican cities or in Los Angeles.
Untitled (Man with a cigarette) (1989) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
An untitled colored woodcut, this 1989 artwork is yet another example of Gil de Montes’ technical virtuosity. Now a definitively tropical landscape with waving palms and a figure seemingly relaxing in the landscape, Gil de Montes seems to be enjoying the ambiguity of his settings. Is this Mexico or Southern California? It could be either place and Gil de Montes does not care to clearly identify which one it is.
Untitled (Standing man) (1990) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
In 1990 Gil de Montes made another kind of print, this one a monotype. Monotypes are limited edition prints with usually only one to two impressions. This is a strong impression suggesting it was the principal one. He has abandoned the natural setting here and we see a self-contained man, once again nattily dressed. The interior suggests a dressing room where the man might be choosing his clothing, or maybe a restaurant or a ballroom.
Untitled (1990) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Another monotype from 1990 shows a man, this time from the side. His face is mostly covered with what seems to be a mask. Perhaps he is a performer? The carefully pointed toe and choreographed arm position suggest that might be the case. This supposition is further intimated by the yellow curtain behind him.
Untitled (Man with chair on checkerboard floor) (1992) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
The 1992, Untitled (Man with chair and checkerboard floor), is a pure etching. Black and white, Gil de Montes draws a scene that is riotous in the background and sedate and contained with respect to the “Man”. Once again, outside of nature but totally surrounded by animal heads that are probably meant to be read as masks it feels as if we are looking at a dream attic. The tension between the self-contained man and the wildness of the dreamscape make the image fascinating and a bit disturbing.
Untitled (Head in a pile of rubble) (1993) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
A year later, in 1993, another Untitled (Head in a pile of rubble) is an etching but in this case pooled with aquatint. The severed head is surrounded by devastation – a broken piled-on landscape. Are these abstracted body parts? Construction materials? The results of an attack, or a natural disaster? Another dream?
Untitled (Man with face in hands) (1993) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Untitled, (Man with face in hands), also from 1993 demonstrates no visual relief from the line work and the cross hatching: no nuance, no color, no pooling of light. The mood is one of despair and it is hard not to connect it to the previous print of the head in a pile of rubble. Whether this is grief or horror is not clear, but the unsettled background contributes to the sense of despair.
Untitled (Nude woman carried by men with masks) (1994) by Roberto Gil de Montes (Mexican American, b. 1950)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Finally, in 1994, we have Untitled, (Nude woman carried by men in masks) an etching highly colored by watercolor. The pastel palette and its usual associations with childlike illustration or painting belies the raucous almost hysterical scene. Masks and party hats don't make for a cheerful mood here. Does it seem that the woman is happily participating? Is she, rather, drunk or drugged? Is she in some way a victim? The way nobody looks into anyone’s eyes makes this anonymous hysterical partying seems an appropriate extension of the mood of the previous four prints. The self-containment of some of the earlier works seems lost in the madness Gil de Montes is representing.
Narcochic (celebrating the nouveau-rich aesthetic of the narcos--drug traffickers in Mexico and Miami) (2003) by Einar (Mexican American, b. 1963) and Jamex (Mexican American, b. 1960) de la TorreUSC Fisher Museum of Art
Einar and Jamex de la Torre
“We have been living-working on both sides of the border for over 30 years. The regional confluence is a much more diverse and complicated ecosystem than commonly portrayed and stereotyped. A good example of this is the multi layered south going migration seeking a less complicated lifestyle. Our weekly cross-border commute from our San Diego base to our Baja California studios gives us choices in our use of materials as well as the quotidian aspects of daily life. The dichotomy of living parallel lives on both sides of the border informs our work; we take advantage of our insider-outsider status as dual citizens, a status that provides us a critical perspective on the many mutations in terms of identity and belonging. Expressing the fractal-like proliferation of human experience is a big part of what our work is about. Our collaboration stems from learning to blow glass at CSULB. The nature of the medium is to work in teams and this developed into full bore collaboration over the years. We use many different materials for our work but have a penchant for glass blowing. We feel it is the most spontaneous of sculptural materials allowing us to be expressionistic.” Einar de la Torre, 2021
Narcochic is reminiscent of the famous Aztec Calendar stone in its shape and sectioning. The artwork, by hewing to an iconic Mexican form is a kind of love letter to, la patria. But it is also a critique of Einar and Jamex’s own, communicating their understanding of selected aspects of contemporary culture. Their references are to, among other things, excesses of drugs and religion. Most memorably is the high level of the brothers' glassblowing technique that is epitomized in this sculpture. This along with Jamex and Einar’s unique and vivid imaginations, makes Narcochic one of the most prized possessions in the Fisher Museum’s collection.
McDonald's Worker #1 - Tom Agaura (1987) by Dan McCleary (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
“Dan McCleary is passionate about Oaxaca. It is practically his second home. His artwork, both painting and graphics, recall Oaxacan mornings of extremely bright sun and cloudless skies, colored deep blue, in that light so radiant that it subtly fades the colors and allows us to observe the particles that levitate in the air. His images seem suspended in time, and yet they do not lose the vitality of what is represented, be they portraits or still lifes. It could be said that his work, beyond the apparent lightness, has an almost tactile quality that breaks the sensation of two-dimensionality, and that for a moment, allows the viewer to integrate into the composition and become part of the scene. His work celebrates memory and affection and, above all, refers to Dan’s generosity and the ties of family and friendship that he has built with many of us who are fortunate to know him." Lluvia Sepulveda, 2020 Dan himself writes: “I believe when you travel your mind works in a completely different way. Many people in Oaxaca don’t speak English and it forces me into a different mindset. When I am there my sole focus is making prints. Also, Oaxaca is not a museum city that exists in the glory of yesterday. Oaxaca is alive right now as a culture and artistic center. It has become more so over the 20 years I have been going there. It has become one of the centers of printmaking. It is the opposite of Los Angeles. You can do 50 things in one day and you can accomplish so much. It is a walking city.”
Since Dan's artistic production is shaped by his life in LA as well as that in Mexico, it is important to point out the work in both places, their similarities and differences. McDonald's Worker #1 - Tom Agaura is typical of Dan's approach to portraiture in Los Angeles and Mexico in that it is a dignified image of a person. Unusually, the subject is clearly identified by what he does for a living by wearing the company uniform. What distinguishes this work from the Mexico pieces is that it reveals Dan as a spirited colorist.
Geraniums (1988) by Dan McCleary (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Geraniums is also an example of Dan McCleary, colorist, and his work in Los Angeles. I once asked Dan why he so loved to paint flowers and he said that nothing was so absorbing to him as to be able to look at a flower for hours or even days on end. As he absorbs the life of flowers, they absorb Dan's attention and become an expression of his concentration and his "cariño", or affection for the subject.
Untitled (2004) by Dan McCleary (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
This book was created in Mexico Untitled, and it is an example in Fisher’s collection of a sustained and sustaining project of Dan's in Mexico. In this instance it is an artist's book, made in collaboration with the Carpe Diem Press and with his longtime friends and colleagues, James and Alexandra Brown.
Opuntia (2004) by Dan McCleary (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
Within Untitled there are a number of original prints that are characteristic of Dan's printmaking project in Oaxaca. The "portrait" of a cactus Opuntia is one of my favorites as it is apparently simple in its pure lines. But this etching is also complex in that it is more than a “portrait”; it is emblematic of the landscape of Mexico that the artist loves so unreservedly.
Alexandra (2004) by Dan McCleary (American, b. 1952)USC Fisher Museum of Art
The portrait Alexandra is another example of Dan's work quite specific to Oaxaca. Alexandra Brown, one of his closest friends and one of the creators of the Carpe Diem press, was notable for her elegance and aristocratic bearing. Spare of detail, almost as in the cactus print, Dan McCleary captures Alexandra’s essence and her special way of being.
Curator: Selma Holo
Assistant Curator: Stephanie Kowalick
We would like to acknowledge all of the artists in Aquí y Alla for their art and for their willingness to tell us about themselves for this exhibition:
Roberto Gil de Montes
Einar and Jamex de la Torre
We would like to acknowledge and thank Marcelo Bajo of MB Language Translations