ART IN REVIEW
Harry Fonseca: In the Silence of Dusk, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, 710 Camino Lejo, Museum Hill, 476-1250; through Jan. 2, 2011 There are worse creations an artist could be remembered for than a cartoonish coyote— think of the Pillsbury Doughboy or Quatchi, Miga, and Sumi, the mascots of the 2010 Winter Olympics (oh my). But the artistic legacy of Santa Fe artist Harry Fonseca will, indeed, be forever linked to his stylistic image of Coyote, the symbolic trickster common to several Native American cultures. As rendered by Fonseca, Coyote was a dancing hepcat in a zoot suit and a zippered, leather-clad tough guy, among many other guises, and is arguably an emblem of New Mexico second only to the Zia sun symbol. But Fonseca (of Nisenan Maidu, Hawaiian, and Portuguese descent) originally conceived his colorful and endearing howler in northern California years prior to his move to Santa Fe in 1990. Fonseca lived here until his death in 2006.
Harry Fonseca: In the Silence of Dusk all but ignores Coyote, barring a small black-and-white
etching among 26 pieces that clearly demonstrate the skill and many-layered aesthetic of this talented artist. The show features paintings, mixed-media work, and prints from four distinct series— In the Silence of Dusk, Stone Poems,
St. Francis of Assisi, and Seasons— created by Fonseca between 1992 and 2002. Also included as something of a sidebar are two etchings from the 1970s ( Coyote and Toto Dancers) and seven sketchbook pages from his Rock Art #1 folio, done in 1986. The entirety of the work displayed was culled from the Santa Fe-based Harry Fonseca Trust by MIAC curator Valerie Verzuh.
Common to all of the work in the show is Fonseca’s expressive mark making, both from a gestural standpoint and in terms of the controlled accident. Each painting, whether on canvas or paper support, conveys the artist’s vitality in applying his mark and, in some cases, displays where he deliberately allowed the paint to splatter, drip, or smear. Clearly, Abstract Expressionism, particularly action painting, left its mark on Fonseca. This is demonstrated in his Seasons series, in which one will immediately make the association with Jackson Pollock’s nonobjective paintings. Unlike Pollock’s large-scale work, Fonseca’s acrylics on paper are comparatively intimate, yet they embody small galaxies of overlapping swipes and extended marks in tangled webs of dense, opaque colors. Examining Fonseca’s varied brushstrokes is a bit like reading a road map— they lead you in all sorts of directions from one side of the composition to the other and from top to bottom and back again. Less colorful, but more dynamic in its visual footprint is Winter Solitude, Black Bird (2002), executed in three shades of brown amid linear, swirling flight patterns of black and white.
The nonobjective nature of Fonseca’s Seasons separates it from the other work in the exhibition. Although the other work is highly abstract in character, it is nonetheless representational. Either by sight or title, one recognizes St. Francis, a winged Icarus, and assorted symbols taken from petroglyphs and pictographs, including some that make reference to the Maidu creation story— a theme Fonseca revisited throughout his life.
Two mixed-media paintings on raw canvas, for example, in which Fonseca presents the full figure of St. Francis silhouetted in black, are laden with meaning. One considers the welcoming embrace of the Catholic faith, yet also its dark history of absolutism and intimidation. Without the titles— both are designated as Saint Francis
of Assisi (one dates from 1999, the other 2000) — Fonseca’s contoured, faceless figures could be associated with any number of European or tribal religious narratives. The figure’s stance may be seen in a variety of ways: authoritative, ominous, confrontational, or benign, depending upon your interpretation and belief system. Above all, the figure dominates the picture plane and draws one’s attention. Even if seen only as a visual element, Fonseca’s solitary figure is hard to ignore.
The sheer boldness of the Stone Poems series, done between 1992 and 1996, displays Fonseca’s attention to surface quality and visual dynamics. Here he has incorporated sand into his acrylic medium, which adds another dimension to his technique and relates the work more directly to the rock-carved petroglyphs that inspired him. Highly decorative in their limited palette and allover execution, Fonseca’s symbolic figures, white crosses, floating spirals, and incidental marks convey an Abstract Expressionist quality with a Native motif. Separately, these pieces would act like beacons if installed in a cavernous gallery, while if placed in a home environment, they would dominate other surrounding décor. Their placement in the hallway exhibition space doesn’t give them much breathing room, but the overall presentation of the exhibit is nicely done.
When Fonseca died of brain cancer in 2006 at the age of 60, he left a body of work indicative of an artist on top of his game, with the expectation of more to come. According to Verzuh, the Fonseca trust contains more than 1,200 works of art, primarily paintings and drawings. Sadly, his death cut short a vital career filled with anticipation and promise. One can only speculate as to how his art might have evolved, let alone what statements he had left to make. In the Silence of Dusk is by no means a retrospective exhibition, but a worthy tribute that says plenty.
One on One, SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo de Peralta, 989-1199; through May 9 Sense of self has always been tied, one way or another, to sense of place. Hasan Elahi’s live video feed called Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project is a good place to begin understanding SITE Santa Fe’s latest exhibition,
One on One. If you have ever tried to zoom in on your exact location using Google Earth and imagined the possibility of getting so close you could wave back at yourself over your computer monitor, Tracking Transience should immediately resonate with you. The live feed tracks Elahi’s every movement. We have little trouble getting our driving directions online and pulling up an associated map, one that shows satellite views and street views of the location we seek. The problem is that someone else could be pulling up images of our location, too. The technology is certainly there. How comfortable should we be with that? Elahi was once detained at an airport after a neighbor falsely accused him of involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That is what neighbors do in an Orwellian society: they turn each other in. SITE presents Elahi’s work as an exaggeration of the technology-driven lives we lead today: he even broadcasts photographs of every meal he eats over the live feed. Ultimately, any sense of the individual gets lost in the multitude of images coming to us over a bank of monitors, and they amount to an abstraction.
Kaari Upson, another One on One artist, has created a body of work that, though it is ostensibly a chronicle of the semi-fictitious life of a man named Larry, is really something more specific in its SITE manifestation: a maze in which the true self, with its hopes and desires and its need for real intimacy in human relationships, is lost in sexual addiction.
Autonomy, a collage of drawings spread over the wall as an explosion of Larry’s memories, underscores the sense of longing and, perhaps, of loss that drives people to seek intimacy through pornography: the thing that offers the quick fix. As the title hints, this could be about anybody. We don’t know Larry’s last name and, sadly, it doesn’t matter. He is us.
One on One is the most accomplished show at SITE in the past year. Offering glimpses of the individual through the themes of obsession, exhibitionism, and madness, there is more than one aspect of the show that will grab you and speak to you. Terry Allen’s multimedia installation
Ghost Ship Rodez, based on an episode in the life of the actor, artist, and poet Antonin Artaud, who spent years in and out of mental institutions, is a homage that, as embodied in Ghost Ship, a sculpture installation of Artaud’s bed sailing over a sea of books, becomes elegiac. Allen’s own obsession with Artaud adds a haunting twist to this chronicle of madness.
Your first and last glimpse of the work in One on One will be of Brad McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry’s intimate videos, the action in which seems almost choreographed, as though it were ballet. In these videos, two people, a man and a woman, embrace each other tenderly, with the familiarity of lovers. In a strange way, even though the McCallum and Tarry installation suggests more about interdependence or the completeness one may feel in the other (the theme of opposites runs throughout the artists’ work), it provides a good starting and return point for the darker themes One on One offers deeper inside the space.
— Michael Abatemarco
Harry Fonseca: Saint Francis of Assisi, 1999, mixed media on canvas, 66 x 36 inches
Stone Poem #75, 1992, acrylic on canvas,
60 x 48 inches
McCallum & Tarry: Topsy-Turvy, 2006, installation view at SITE Santa Fe; courtesy the artists and Caren Golden Fine Arts, New York