Artist treads fine line be­tween the sur­real and sac­ri­le­gious

The Commercial Appeal - - Business -

Liv­ing in the world, we con­stantly make ad­just­ments and ac­com­mo­da­tions to a sense of con­text based on our his­to­ries, our knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery­thing we ob­serve or un­dergo must fit into what is fa­mil­iar to us from the past in or­der that we may keep our bear­ings in the present and profit from or not be harmed by new ex­po­sure.

That prin­ci­ple also ap­plies to look­ing at art, a process that en­tails fram­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences with what we know from the his­tory of styles, ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques and our ac­quain­tance (or lack thereof) with the artist.

En­coun­ter­ing re­cent wa­ter­col­ors and acrylic paint­ings by Juan Rojo at Jay Etkin Gallery, on dis­play through Aug. 30, I was con­sis­tently thrown off-base by the myr­iad ref­er­ences, in­fer­ences and ghost­like em­a­na­tions that in­habit this artist’s works, and I’m not un­ac­cus­tomed to his meth­ods and con­cerns. Threads of the cer­e­mo­nial and rit­u­al­is­tic run through these pieces, as well as notes of the per­verse and the sin­is­ter mar­ried to the be­nign and the highly dec­o­ra­tive. One se­ries of wa­ter­col­ors ti­tled “Mas­quer­ade” seems to ex­plain a great deal about Rojo’s ap­proach; it’s all con­tem­po­rary play and baroque the­atri­cal­ity, rich with dis­guise and cos­tume bent by a slightly warped and wicked Catholic tem­per.

Take the large paint­ing “An­nun­ci­a­tion.” The sub­ject — the an­nounce­ment to Mary by the an­gel Gabriel that she will bear God’s child — was of ut­most im­por­tance dur­ing the late Mid­dle Ages, the Re­nais­sance and the Baroque pe­riod. Rojo’s ver­sion, how­ever, takes the form of a tra­di­tion pieta, the well-known mo­tif in which the Vir­gin Mary holds the body of the cru­ci­fied At Jay Etkin Gallery through Au­gust 30 942 South Cooper Call 901-550-0064 or visit


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