Art in Re­view

Carl Moore: Arte Ur­bano Ecuador

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Michael Abatemarco

In the United States, street art gains an air of le­git­i­macy in venues where so-called “low­brow” art forms are now cham­pi­oned — in gal­leries and art mu­se­ums, places of­ten per­ceived as cater­ing to elite tastes. In the gallery scene, street art has come to be de­fined as a style, some­thing artists can de­velop in the stu­dio rather than in pub­lic spa­ces. But in Ecuador, cre­at­ing arte ur­bano, the true art of the street, is still an act of de­fi­ance and a chal­lenge to the sta­tus quo. Some­times the cre­ation of this art is a po­lit­i­cal act, some­times a commentary on so­ci­ety, and some­times sim­ply raw and vis­ceral ev­i­dence of the hu­man need to ex­press and de­fine it­self. It isn’t hang­ing on the walls of gal­leries. Its prac­ti­tion­ers — in­clud­ing Vera Primavera, Sofia Acosta, Alex Tapia, and Irv­ing Ramo, artists whose works are the sub­jects of a se­ries by Santa Fe-based pho­tog­ra­pher Carl Moore — may risk fines and ar­rest in us­ing art to speak out while op­er­at­ing covertly.

Moore, im­pressed by mu­rals he saw in the Quito sub­urb of Cum­bayá, set about doc­u­ment­ing arte ur­bano over the course of sev­eral vis­its to Ecuador. His pho­to­graphs, on view in the Project Space at Photo-eye Book­store, chron­i­cle works by artists op­er­at­ing in Am­bato, Quito, Baños de Agua Santa, and other re­gions. The works are ephemeral in nature, sus­cep­ti­ble to the el­e­ments and to be­ing painted and plas­tered over. Es­sen­tially, what Moore sees on one visit may no longer be there the next time around. The pho­to­graphs, which ap­pear in his 2017 book Arte

Ur­bano del Ecuador, cap­ture the mu­rals’ wide range of artis­tic styles. This book is one of three in­ter­re­lated books by Moore, in­clud­ing a col­or­ing book, avail­able at the book­store.

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s pre­sen­ta­tion is mod­est. The un­framed prints of small and large-scale im­ages are hung by clothes­pins — mir­ror­ing, per­haps, the way a dark­room pho­tog­ra­pher han­dles wet prints. But a more for­mal stag­ing seems an­ti­thet­i­cal to the nature of this work, and re­flects the im­me­di­acy of its sub­ject.

As pre­sented, the con­text of th­ese works is not al­ways ap­par­ent. For in­stance, one artist’s street art might be re­spond­ing to nearby ad­ver­tise­ments, a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage or is­sues of lo­cal and na­tional im­port, or sim­ply re­flect­ing the so­cial con­di­tions of the im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment. While some artists must work when and where they are not sup­posed to in or­der to avoid govern­ment crack­downs on their ex­pres­sion, oth­ers may be of­fi­cially sanc­tioned and garner com­mis­sions. (Primavera, for ex­am­ple, is a noted street artist, ar­chi­tect, and de­signer who works in­ter­na­tion­ally.) Still, ac­cord­ing to the 2013 World Re­port of the Hu­man Rights Watch, 20 pri­vate Ecuado­ran tele­vi­sion and ra­dio sta­tions were shut down in 2012 as part of an ef­fort by then-president Rafael Cor­rea to limit press free­doms and the in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary — events with a corol­lary in the ac­tions of our own president’s rhetor­i­cal at­tacks on jour­nal­ists and the free press and his ef­forts to see his loy­al­ists ap­pointed to the Supreme Court. (Cor­rea’s vice president, Lenín Moreno, is now his suc­ces­sor.) The pho­to­graphs are close-cropped, and Moore seems to pre­fer to fo­cus on the art­work it­self in most of the im­ages. There are some ex­cep­tions, such as Ralax (Alex Tapia), Quito, Ecuador, which shows the en­tire cylin­dri­cal struc­ture on which Tapia’s image, a sur­re­ally comic fig­ure, is painted. But many of the pho­to­graphs ap­pear as though they were them­selves art prints, along the lines of lith­o­graphs or screen prints. They’re also rich in their pig­men­ta­tion and de­tail and beau­ti­fully printed on archival pa­per. When the tex­ture of the ma­sonry that serves as the artists’ can­vases can be de­tected by the viewer, or when there’s a re­cessed area of the ar­chi­tec­tural sur­face of the build­ings and walls upon which they cre­ate th­ese works, the ef­fect is al­most three-di­men­sional.

Scale is a fac­tor not al­ways read­ily per­ceived in Moore’s work here. In view­ing Vera Primavera

(Veron­ica Ibarra), Am­bato, Ecuador, for ex­am­ple, one is struck first by the vivid mu­ral. The four nar­row win­dows around which the mu­ral was painted, in­di­cat­ing that it cov­ers at least four sto­ries of a build­ing, reg­is­ter with the viewer af­ter the fact. In this image and oth­ers, such as a work by Es­tiven Mera in El Puyo, the tops of ur­ban trees creep into the frame. Moore of­fers only glimpses of the set­ting in which th­ese works are placed. But in keep­ing our at­ten­tion on the art­work, he of­fers a re­mark­able purview of the eclec­ti­cism of Ecuador’s ur­ban art. There are in­stances of so­cial re­al­ism, sur­re­al­ism, fan­tasy, Pop, and more, and much of it is ex­pertly ren­dered. For those of us in the states where, out­side of some ur­ban cen­ters, much pub­lic art is col­or­less and un­con­tro­ver­sial, it’s a re­minder that there are places where art lives, breathes, and thrives out of doors.

Carl Moore: La Suerte (Sofia Acosta), 2017; left, Te­naz (Wil­liam Al­varo Cor­dova), Otavalo, Ecuador, 2017; both archival pig­ment prints

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