Art in Review
Carl Moore: Arte Urbano Ecuador
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