Side by Side is a two-person show of pastel drawings, digitally manipulated photograph collages, and a litter of cast aluminum and metal sculptures based in Latino identity, Mexican American tradition, Mesoamerican history. San Antonio artists Arturo Infante Almeida and Daniel Guerrero have shared a life together for the last 33 years and make artwork that is worlds apart, but they share a certain small-town communal nostalgia, galvanized by an uncanny flair for the extravagant. Each wall of Al Rendon Photography and Fine Art alternates the two artists’ works, an arrangement that flows with charm and does not play favorites.
Steeped in coded visual language, Guerrero’s pastel portraits use symbols and historical references to make a grand cultural coalescence—a conceptual cornucopia of maize, Coca-Cola, pop culture and self-identity. Guerrero’s lotería concoctions of man and woman, of chap and damsel, include subtle references to gay rights in a time of unquestioned family values. Guerrero revels in details, the subtle drawing of clues that link to the past. The tattoos on the male and female figures, jewelry, a cross, drawn words, and architecture all tie into a complex cross-cultural artistic narrative so dense one needs a spoon-fed history lesson to extract his well-intentioned meanings. Guerrero shows us his scholarly interest in Mexican-American and pre-Hispanic indigenous history, and it can be a bit aloof and alienating. But playful pop references to Coca-Cola and Grant Wood’s American Gothic in Remember the All of It, and the erotic semi-nudes provide an alternate avenue of interest, even if you’re not a student of Aztec and Mayan civilizations.
Arturo Infante Almeida’s Gold Christ with Pantry encapsulates all that is Baroque. A larger-than-life gold sculpture of the crucifixion floats above a kitschy pantry, vibrating with over-exaggerated Latino identity. The fideo, the spices, and small sculptures by Franco Mondini-Ruiz celebrate home, a cultural kitchen that might be shared by a large demographic of Hispanic households.
In his series Barrio Baroque, Almeida’s ornate frames make his photo-collages of fences, toys, religious references, dogs and flowers into a barrio pseudo-iconological canon, telling the story of a whimsical wistfulness, heavy in nostalgia for a Latino upbringing, all with bustling retro-rococo backdrops.
Almeida draws on his upbringing in Corpus Christi. He incorporates images of the decorative cast-aluminum fence post caps that add ornamental truculence to ordinary utilitarian structures, reflecting a sense of pride in homesteads in small neighborhoods. He uses images of the plastic soldiers that give children hope, a hero worship mentality ingrained in minority communities. Dogs sits on top of repetitive photoshopped patterns, anchoring compositions that have a kind of “magic eye” poster feel, unintentionally mixing lowbrow with highbrow, baroque with kitsch.
“A celebration of neighborhoods” is how Almeida sees his work. Guerrero calls it a “transnational identity of overlapping cultures.” It’s a shared understanding of a people, place and pride on two scales: micro and macro.
Side by Side, Arturo Infante Almeida and Daniel Guerrero is on view by appointment through August 9 at Al Rendon Photography and Fine Art in San Antonio.