Selected Press, Media and Essays

Newspaper Reviews

A fusion of international flavors in Framingham

FRAMINGHAM - Hosting its first international show, Fountain Street Fine Art gallery is celebrating local diversity by exhibiting exciting works by Latino artists from around the world.

Featuring several major artists, the new show, "We Are You: New England Edition," showcases vivid, sometimes politically charged paintings and photographs by 36 contemporary Latino artists from the U.S., Latin America and Europe.

Since opening their gallery at 59 Fountain St. in an area that's home to a diverse Latino and Brazilian population, co-founders Marie Craig and Cheryl Clinton said the traveling exhibition seemed like a great fit for their gallery.

"The gallery is located in a century-old industrial building in the heart of downtown Framingham, an area of cultural diversity and transformation," Craig noted. "We live in an area known for its multiculturalism; we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to get the conversation going?'"

Hoping to show Latino art, Craig and Clinton contacted the exhibit's organizers, "We Are International," an artistic initiative that's been featuring work by 36 artists from more than a dozen Latin American countries in shows across the U.S. since 2012.

Craig said, "A lot of the artists in this show are world class."

Visitors will see bold, lively art that, like Latin American literature, incorporates elements of "magical realism" such as improbable juxtapositions, allegory and fantasy.

Fusing Pop Art with an ironic references to the Old Masters, Mel Ramos is showing "Fraulein French Fries," depicting a blonde Anglo beauty rising, like Botticelli's Venus, from a box of French fries. Tejano artist Joe Pena challenges viewers to confront their own biases with his in-your-face oil painting of a tattooed immigrant whose appearance might conform to their stereotypes of a gang member.

Jose Rodeiro's oil painting of a lovely Latina sleeping in a fairy tale lake surrounded by butterflies and ancient carvings hearkens to old images of romance "south of the border."

Several artists have created provocative images that attack or satirize what they regard as xenophobic opposition to immigration.

In Ricardo Fonseca's fantastical digital photograph, "An Act of Love," a man dressed as a mariachi musician "plays" the trunk of an elephant like a trumpet. Standing near a border fence meant to thwart immigration, the elephant wears a blanket that resembles the state flag of Texas.

Framing his dramatic illustration within a YouTube screen, Gabriel Navar depicts an angry man about to swing a club at a green space creature beside a speech balloon stating, "Go back to where you came from, alien." The message is clear: Some people regard immigrants from south of the U.S. border as the equivalent of extraterrestrials who must be beaten back to protect the nation's interests.

Several participants are showing powerful images that transcend cultural differences.

In a pair of striking acrylics, Ecuadorian-American artist Pablo Caviedes creates evocative images of horse-headed figures riding bulls, facing one another in fields of blue and red that evokes a dreamlike, if inscrutable atmosphere.

The exhibit, which opened on June 19, also included a poetry reading on June 22 and the screening of a documentary film about the project on June 25, at Amazing Things Arts Center.

A Moveable Feast: Art, Food and Migration

Food, visible in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings, was meant to be available for the deceased in the afterworld. In ancient Greek and Roman murals, depictions of foodstuffs could reveal a painter’s skill and/or reinforce the wealth and position of the mural owner. Still-life oil paintings, the rage in 17th century Italy and Holland, focused on the realistic depiction of food as well as its metaphoric implications, from the sensuality of still-wet grapes to a reminder of death suggested by worm holes in fruit or a dead rabbit or fowl on the buffet. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the inclusion of food in art was no longer considered a subject matter secondary to history painting or portraiture as it had been until that time. Paintings of apples by French painter Paul Cézanne (d. 1906) refer to classical Greek myths, Adam and Eve, female sensuality and fertility while still functioning as a vehicle for his dramatic new style of post-Impressionist painting. American Pop Art pieces of the 1960s: Andy Warhol’s silkscreen images of soup cans, Claes Oldenburg’s hot dogs and hamburgers sewn with fabric and Wayne Thiebaud’s lusciously layered oil painted desserts pointed to consumerism, street culture and the growing affluence and self-indulgence of Americans where everyday life literally and figuratively became art.

In this exhibition, we have selected paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, mixed media collages, videos and installation works where food and its rituals have an even greater multiplicity of meanings and purposes in our contemporary, globally-aware society. The history of the world is one of migration. When people move or travel, they often “take” their cuisine with them, sometimes dreaming of it as Roberto Márquez implies in his work, Map of Mexico. People adopt flavors, sauces, ingredients, spices and beverages from a new locale or entice the natives to enjoy their transferred cuisine as Bette Blank illustrates in a Madison, NJ, restaurant scene, Sushi Palace. The exhibition, named after a book by Ernest Hemingway, recognizes the allure of other cultures and new experiences, ones that he himself had in France (as visualized by José Pardo), Spain, Cuba and other places which found their way into his writing. This internationalism is reflected in the sophisticated, multi-layered, multi-cultural canvas, Tapas, by José Rodeiro.

Laura L. Cuevas references the expulsion from paradise as the ultimate entwining of eating, the divine and forced “migration.” Thus from birth until death, human beings are preoccupied with sustenance made visible in works by Bob Richardson and Judith Margolis. As Kathleen Migliore-Newton, Jay Seldin and Sue Zwick reveal, fresh food markets, our own version of “paradise,” exist around the world in a variety of settings. Shopping lists are made (Jacquelyn Stryker), recipes collected (Marilyn Walter), and feasts with family and friends are celebrated (Aliza Augustine, Barbara McElheny and Zwick). Raúl Villarreal and Davide Luciano note with irony the problem of abundance and waste even as many in the world have little or nothing to eat. Mario Lupo’s Migration (Porca) alludes to the fact that when the Spanish brought pigs to the New World, this food source inadvertently became agricultural destroyers, ruining Native American fields and crops, causing a problem that still exists in the south today because of descendant wild pigs. Nelson Alvárez and Jane Dell also reference environmental troubles caused by factory manufactured food while Alan Alejo, Barbara Brill, Emily Tumbleson and Alan Walker document our fast food “addictions” to McDonald’s, pizza, take-out Chinese, vending machine snacks and soft-serve ice cream. Coffee, beer, soda and juice boxes appear in works by Linda Stillman, Tracy Miller and Luciano although a bottle of red wine completes the scene in works by Pardo and Larry Ross. Cakes and cookies by Asaya Dodina & Slava Polishchuk, Lori Larusso, and Lupo look scrumptious but watch out for the one by Gabriel Navar which, with all its sugar, may be “eating” you. Adel Gorgy, abstracting imagery of Warhol’s soup cans some fifty years later, reflects the loss of simplicity and signals the distortion and multiplicity of food choices available in the U.S. and around the world. And yet, the contemporary performance on video by Greek artist, Filippos Tsitsopoulos, where his head is covered in fruits, vegetables and other foods, harks back to the work of the 16th century Italian Mannerist painter Arcimboldo, perhaps a contemporary portrait of “you are what you eat!”

"Tuesday profile: Mel Ramos, 'surrealist' painter of naked women, superheroes"

Artist Mel Ramos hunched over a drafting table in his home studio in the Oakland hills on a recent afternoon, working on a sketch of a voluptuous naked woman lounging atop a giant cigar. He was smoking one himself -- standard studio procedure as he paints, draws, talks.

"My favorites are the Robainas (cigars)," the 76-year-old Ramos said between taking puffs and drawing breasts. "Can't get 'em here, so I stock up on 'em when we go through the Barcelona airport."

Cigars. Women. Commercialism. That's his thing. There's the occasional superhero figure, but his work usually involves well-endowed nude women embracing human-sized Coca-Cola bottles or emerging from larger-than-life Tootsie Roll wrappers, suggestively peeled back like rumpled sets of sheets. The effect is akin to Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" but a little bolder and a lot naughtier. More like Venus popping out of a cake. A cake at the Playboy mansion.

These flirty oil-on-canvas treats -- most of which we can't show you in the newspaper -- have served Ramos well since he started painting in the '60s as a student of Wayne Thiebaud. He quickly became internationally known as a contemporary of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and is now revered for his once-shocking images that often had feminists "on my case," he said.

These days, the still-prolific artist's work seems pretty tame -- yet striking as ever. And several of his works can be seen at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland through July 28 in an unusual show called "Pay It Forward," a collaboration with Gabriel Navar, one of Ramos' former art students at Cal State East Bay.

Teacher and student: Navar, who lives and teaches in the Santa Barbara area, first took a class from Ramos in 1991, then later became Ramos' studio assistant and friend. Navar's slightly surrealistic take on computer-centric culture reflects the energy and color of Ramos' work. But the true inspiration came from Ramos' work ethic and discipline.

"The respect he has set aside for his career -- that's what I want to emulate," Navar said.

The Oakland show is a visual tour through their longtime mentor/mentee relationship. And "Gabriel is a worthy torchbearer," said Woody Johnson, co-curator of the Oakland exhibit and longtime friend of Navar's, who says it's quite a coup for an Oakland gallery to host some of Ramos' works.

"I was surprised (Ramos) agreed to do it," Johnson said, considering Ramos' schedule of upcoming shows. "And the wild thing is, he's our very own; he just lives up the street. Hangs out with his family, has coffee on College Avenue," Johnson added. "We're honored to show his work."

Dressed in an old T-shirt, his hair a tangle of steel gray, Ramos looks more like a mechanic who just rolled out from under a chassis than a world-renowned artist. Yet he just came off a major solo show in Vienna that he calls the highlight of his career. And a retrospective of his work runs through mid-October at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, where Ramos lived and taught for many years before moving to the Bay Area nearly two decades ago. He also has an exhibit in Berlin this summer -- hence the four new paintings and several drawings currently in his studio.

Model marriage: "That one's still wet," he said, pointing with his half-smoked Robaina at the image of a curvy woman, typically au naturel and cradled in a giant martini glass. Another work hanging on his studio wall shows a woman resembling actress Pamela Anderson, who modeled in his studio, arriving in a stretch limo with makeup artist in tow.

Leta Ramos, his wife of more than 50 years and an artist in her own right, doesn't seem to mind her husband's figurative fixation. For one thing, she was one of his models for his early work.

"And he's still with me, isn't he?" she joked, puttering away in her own studio on another level of the house.

Because of his depictions of lovely ladies caressing various commercial products, he's dealt with some trademark issues over the years. As recently as the early 2000s, lawyers from Coca-Cola sent him a letter saying they didn't approve of naked women in conjunction with the Coke bottle.

"I sent 'em an email back saying that the painting they were complaining about was done in 1972, and the statute of limitations on copyright is three years," he said. "Here they were contacting me 30 years later. Plus, it was the Coca-Cola company in Germany that was sponsoring my show that included that very painting. After I told 'em that, I didn't hear from them anymore."

Ramos is not totally happy with the way his work is often described. He says it's OK that he's usually lumped in the category of pop art, but he has a much more complex view. At the same time, he doesn't seem to take it all too seriously.

"I consider myself an unreconstructed figurative surrealist painter," he said, removing the cigar from his teeth for that mouthful of a line. "I was fascinated by Dali when I was 14. I like the idea of incongruous relationships, a beautiful girl coming out of a banana, that kind of thing."

Whatever you do, don't call him a pinup artist. He doesn't like that. It's not that he's against pinup art, he says, but it's just not what he's about.

"When Picasso and Matisse painted a naked lady, it was called a nude," he said with a shrug of resignation. "Mine? They call it a pinup."

Annual Fine Arts Faculty Art Show Set

Hancock College has a talented pool of artists/teachers in its fine arts department. The creative efforts of these visual artists are showcased in the annual Fine Arts Faculty Art Show, now showing in the Ann Foxworthy Gallery on the Santa Maria campus.

A reception for the artists will be held from 2:45 to 4:45 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in the gallery. The public is invited to meet the art faculty and see their work.  The show will be on display through Thursday, April 18.

The artworks were created in a broad range of media including drawing, mixed media, oils, digital painting, ceramics, photography, and conceptual sculpture. Art Gallery Director Marti Fast said that the show is a longtime tradition, allowing students and visitors an opportunity to appreciate the depth and breadth of talent in the fine arts program.

Photography instructor David Passage has been shooting images from his iPhone in a new genre of image-making called plein air photography, after the French Barbizon and Impressionist schools that valued immediacy and the effects of light on surface.

“My iPhone is now my camera of choice,” said Passage. “It is always with me, it has a large file size, and the ability to repurpose my photographs takes my breath away. Phone cameras are not only changing the way people use photography by allowing us to create and access visual information in the moment, they are also an expressive tool, and wonderful apps let you edit pictures on the fly and in the field.”

Bob Nichols heads the ceramics program on campus and is a prolific artist. Constantly experimenting with shapes, symbolism, rich color, and process, his “Life Journey Landscape Platter” invites viewers to explore abstractions and layers of color and calligraphy.

Virginia Mack teaches art appreciation, design, and art history. She has spent this last year kayaking the channels of the Morro Bay Estuary, sketching, and painting bird life as a way to find a new focus in her life since the death of her husband.

Design instructor Nancy Jo Ward has inspired scores of digital design students with her teaching and art.

She blurs the line between traditional and digital art, drawing, painting, and compositing found objects and textures onto digital photos or pastel drawings that have been developed traditionally and then digitized.

John Hood teaches advanced drawing and mixed media and is constantly fascinated by the inner workings of nature.

 

“Its visual complexities and philosophical possibilities form a base from which I begin my exploration,” said Hood. “My interest in organic matter manifests in imagined shapes based on my environment.  A variety of experiments reveal themselves with new techniques and compositions.  For me, the forms become what I refer to as the constant companion, taking the form of contemplative subject matter.”

Longtime painting instructor Deborah West’s soothing one-foot-square oil paintings of clouds invites viewers to sit and contemplate light and sky.

“More and more, my work is about the joy I experience in simple beauties, and the pure pleasure of having a brush in hand. Color is the medium.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Gabriel Navar, who has fun parodying you-tube and the ubiquitous world of apps.  He is inspired by art history, delving into topics of alienation, techno-obsession, gadget- “zombie-fication,” and end-of-times anxiety, among others. The theme and common thread in his work is society’s preoccupation with technology, especially social media, smart phones, texting, and so on.  His paintings are critical and creative explorations, celebrations, and observations about our relationship(s), dependence, addictions with technological toys, gadgets, websites, and apps.  He said he believes that through his lens, the work is not without humor.

The Foxworthy Gallery is located inside the Academic Resource Center, Bldg. L-South, in the heart of the Santa Maria campus.  It is open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. The gallery is closed weekends and school holidays.

"Words to sing by, Hancock College instructor hears his poetry and art interpreted through music."

Gabriel Navar, an artist and poet who teaches at Allan Hancock College, sits in an office cluttered by files and miscellaneous art supplies. The setting is drab other than a few paintings on the wall. He is dressed in a simple black shirt and jeans.

But don't judge a man by his office. Both his work space and his fashion seem light years away from the vibrant strokes that fill up his poetry and his paintings.

"I have a deep interest in exploring color. The same thing with my writing, it's exploring color with words."

The only way the Hancock instructor doesn't explore color is through music--he leaves that to Paul Basler, a composer and professor of music at the University of Florida.

In 2000, Basler was looking for words, specifically in Spanish, to accompany his music and asked some students to do an Internet search. They came upon Navar's personal website. When Basler saw it, he knew he'd found the right person.

Navar writes poetry, often in Spanish, and paints images to correspond to the meaning of the poetry. He has been writing and drawing since he was a child, but never thought of it as a career until college. In the 1990s he attended Cal State East Bay, and some influential instructors persuaded him to take art more seriously. That prodding led him to pursue a career in the arts and ultimately to accept a teaching position at Hancock College three years ago.

Navar never would have guessed that this circuitous path would lead him (or his words, at least) toward the center stage of concert halls around the nation. He built his website for personal reasons and not necessarily to sell or gain notoriety for his work. It was his wife, who actually got the site up and running in 1998.

"In a lot of ways I credit her for creating the spark for this whole collaboration."

So far, Basler and Navar have collaborated on several major projects including "Cantos Alegres," a collection of nine poems for choir, baritone soloist, horn, percussion, and piano. The works were commissioned by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay in Florida.

In "Cantos Alegres," which translates to joyful songs, Navar presents dramatic emotion in each of the nine poems. In "Elevated" he speaks of a love that is uplifting: "I live for the splendor surrounding your face/And for the silent darkness that your/Eyes reflect upwards/You navigate in eternity."

All of the collaborations between Navar and Basler have been done through e-mail and phone calls, though through distance there still exists a kind of artistic chemistry. Basler will usually ask Navar for some of his latest work. Navar said he never writes with the music in mind.

"I just write almost stream of consciousness. I don't think that maybe this will be put to music," he said. "And apparently it's been inspiring to him. Somehow what I write and what he writes just connect."

The artist-poet and composer were set to meet for the first time this week in Tennessee for their third largest collaboration titled "Embrace Creation," which was commissioned by the Tennessee Tech University's Department of Music.

"For this particular project, he demanded I be there, so I am," Navar said.

This specific project has Navar's poetry set to chorale music performed by the Cumberland Quintet, the university's faculty woodwind quintet, and the university's chorale. The group will be performing the songs while images of Navar's paintings are flashed on a wall behind the choir.

A company called Colla Voice is publishing "Embrace Creation," and schools and churches will be able to buy the composition at a reasonable cost.

The fact that the images will be presented together with the poetry and music is rewarding for Navar.

Navar's work has no real separation between the words and the corresponding images. He just knows they always go together. "Sometimes I'll write something, and it will give me the images somehow."

Navar said before his collaboration with Basler he always thought of himself as a painter not a writer. However, his projects have sort of a chicken-and-egg sensibility. Sometimes words inspire a project, and sometimes it's an image.

"It can be anything, like a phrase I hear on the radio that sticks in my mind," Navar said. "I know it sounds cheesy but it could be a bag of potato chips, because I like the colors or the logo. Sometimes it's nature or a beautiful sky."

Navar, who is of Mexican ancestry, said he doesn't always intend for his work to have a Latin flair, but admits that much of it does.

"A lot of people say they see Latin color or sensibility. I don't really see that," he said. "It's just part of my blood. It's not intentional."

Navar's paintings contain rich, warm colors like deep reds, brilliant blues, and alluring greens and browns. Some of Navar's work is used by a publisher for book covers. Usually, he is teamed with Latin American authors, he said.

Ironically, Navar doesn't have close ties with his native ancestry, though soon he'll get the chance to explore his cultural roots by teaching Mexican art history.

The artist said his work tends to stick to a theme for a few years--a reflection of his thoughts on the world around him.

Lately politics have been on his mind. He noticed that after the events of Sept. 11, his work became more political in nature inspired by political mishaps, racial profiling, and global warming.

His technique has changed a bit as well. He said he's toyed with using boxes or windows in his paintings much like you'd see on a computer screen, as well as words.

This technique shows up in a recent piece, called "Recall," about the recall of beef tainted with E. coli.

Some of the more political images are a far cry from those he's painting about other subjects. While most of his paintings are known for their sensual imagery and spirituality, his political paintings carry more of a clear message about society, politics, and personal responsibility.

Even his self-portraits have changed over time. The original self-portrait he used for promotion contained a long-haired Navar sitting cross-legged on a pool of water among some branches. A more recent one, "Aqui Esta el Dia," which he now favors, features Navar as young man standing in some grass beside a body of water, now with short hair much the way he looks today, but with the guiding light of a paint brush shining through. He considers it a spiritual self-portrait.

Going forward, Navar said he simply wants to continue doing what he's doing, whether it be in words or paint, and regardless of what musical notes are attached.

"I feel blessed. I'd like to see this blossom," he said of the collaboration.

"Browser art: Hancock instructor brings online annoyances to the cultural forefront"

For most of us, those pop-up ads that seem to generate out of nothing as we cruise through cyberspace are annoyances that we try to zap away as quickly as possible. But for one local artist, pop-ups, banners, buzz words, and images that lie just beyond our periphery are the stuff of creative inspiration.

Gabriel Navar, Allan Hancock College's newest art instructor-currently showing his art in the faculty show at David Ryan Gallery-has been working with layered images for years, but only recently has he put them in the context of the Internet, complete with browser borders and layers of random images creeping around the corners of panes. Partially obscured windows hint at messages that are just out of view. Navar's three-dimensional art makes the otherwise frustrating images into something intriguing that commands further exploration.

His art conveys the message that we are simultaneously capable of tuning in and filtering out information when bombarded with material.

"I often work with found materials-items that are around the house or attic or in the community," he said. "And I just started stacking it. When I begin, I don't know where I'm going."

Navar said that he allows for an organic approach that isn't entirely planned out in advance. Once he begins a project, his work becomes a stream of consciousness coming from tidbits he's seen in the media, items he's heard on the radio on his way to work, or buzzwords in general circulation. The ideas become layered images, often springing from the internet. His heavy use of the digital world was a conscious decision, in that he wants to create something opposite from the work of digital artists, who often try to make their art more painterly.

While the work may seem unfocused-jumping from ads to computer-error messages and from political and social commentary to humorous observation-it represents the constant flow of information into our consciousness.

"For me, I might approach them in a tongue-in-cheek way," he explained. "They're serious issues, and they part of our fabric, and that is what inspires me."

Similarity and dissimilarity coexist in Navar's explorations, and, though scattered, the disparate elements are nonetheless unified.

"You see an image of Osama, then this pop-up ad about immersing yourself in chocolate," Navar continued. "If not this, it might be abstract images inspired by a camping trip, so it's really just where I'm at."

With his current focus on the Internet, Navar has access to pretty much the whole world with just a click. It's a place he said he could spend lifetimes exploring, and that sentiment manifests itself in work that's simultaneously commentary, critique, and celebration. It's a journey that takes the viewer past the mundane to arrive at the substantive.

"Painting with a Global Perspective"

Gabriel Navar isn't content to just paint his own reality. Like many people, Navar is in search for his own truth, but strives to explore the overall human condition through his own belief system.

This passion for painting provides an opportunity to present his point of view and then springboard viewers into a dialogue as a global community.

Growing up in Oakland, the Lafayette artist admired the community murals of the East Bay. This heavily influenced his work, which is filled with a passion for the iconography of Latin American culture. Using bold colors and overlapping images, Navar's canvases come alive with elements from his dreams, experiences, memories and predictions.

"His paintings are figurative with a surrealist, Latino sensibility", says Sally Douglas Arce of the SomArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. "Navar explores themes about relationships - human to human and human to the environment."

He is also inspired by a love of art history. Right now, he is obsessed with the dramatic quality of the Baroque movement.

As he painted two pieces dealing with the cycles of life and death, Navar studied the works of Goya. Through visions about the atrocities of war, Goya painted masterpieces, says Navar.

For a Day of the Dead show in San Francisco, Navar produced a painting that looks at the heightened anxiety of the nation in relationship to the national terrorist alert system and called it "Rainbow".

"Art that has a legacy is what gets talked about after the artist is gone", he says. "I'm fascinated by how war, photography, psychology and technology have influenced artists throughout history. It's all part of the social fabric."

"Navar shares his knowledge with students at Contra Costa College, Ohlone College and Walnut Creek's Civic Arts Education as a professor of art appreciation and art history.

"Even during turbulent times, Navar's art reflects a belief in the divine, miracles and the human race. In "The Blood of your Arch Angel", he illustrates the universal feelings of joy and fear during this anxious period in history. The moody piece reflects the comfort of trusting in guardian angels.

After watching the movie "Frida", Navar became intrigued by art as a consumer product and reproduced Frida Kahlo's famous wedding day portrait. In it, he presented Frida and her husband Diego Rivera as products with price tags which represent how virtually anything can be sold these days.

Navar is constantly admiring artists throughout history. In his paintings, the viewer may catch a glimpse of a Madonna portrait, as first sketched by Leonardo da Vince, hidden beneath the main the main subject. This overlaying of imagery is his favorite technique.

"My work is allegorical and mythic as I tap into states of mind, nature and primeval forces," he says. "I evoke memories and hopes, fears and love, treasuring the ineffable."

The ecologically aware artist can often be spotted pulling items out of the garbage. He takes these recycled pieces with an untold history and transforms them into pieces of fine art.

Among the re-used materials in his home studio are head boards, doors, windows and picture frames. He calls the rediscovered treasures "chance encounters."

While a significant amount of Navar's collection is inspired by broader themes, paintings also come from something as simple as breakfast. One day at the breakfast table, Navar decided to morph a bottle of honey onto a portrait of his wife as a symbol of undying affection. It's appropriately titled "Honey."

"I want my paintings to co-exist," he says. "I go with what I feel. I let my imagination go."

Many of his subjects are women meditating or praying in nature. These mixed media paintings are based on an interconnectedness with the natural world and others.

He calls these images "visual prayers" or "odes to life." They are based on myths, spiritual belief systems and the supernatural.

"My image-making is a form of continuing a dialogue within myself, my community and the divine," he says. "It is one of my personal goals to manifest warmth, love and peace."

"Painter Inaugurates San Mateo Gallery"

An exploration of cultural identity, war, consumerism and the human condition as it relates to the cosmos, the art of Gabriel Navar represents what it means to be an individual in our complex world.

Defining his style is a futile task. His work, painted on found and recycled objects, is undoubtedly contemporary, conscious of our spiritual relationships with nature and celebratory of his Latino culture.

But he blends iconography of art's past - like those of Goya, Matisse and Picasso - and symbols of contemporary American life into dreamy "figure-landscape juxtapositions" that make it impossible to classify his style.

In our culture, everyone is connected. National borders, Navar says, seem not to exist. Global communication is part of our everyday lives. This interdependency of individuals and cultures, as well as their imminent, soulful connections to a larger, cosmic grid, are what fuel his work.

In his art, the notion of "varying entities and institutions" coexisting or unifying as one illustrates that being an individual in our world means being just a tiny element of a more immense, divine network. Simply put, Navar's art is awe-inspiring, making us wonder what it means to be alive.

Born in Mexico and raised in Oakland, Navar relates most to the surrealist, muralist and pop styles, but chooses not to openly categorize his work. And "I don't consider myself a realist, but am interested in painting things the way they are," he said.

"Hope," a common thread in his art, "is what attracts me to powerful works of the past," he said. His work also explores the spiritual realm, capturing "moments of solitude leading to an inner peace," he said.

But reflecting on the uncertainty in our world, he catches himself being more cynical. In "Cuando Llueve, Llueve a Chorros (When It Rains, It Pours)," which is at the "Reflections of Spirit" exhibition at the new San Tomas Fine Arts Gallery on Baldwin Avenue in San Mateo, he transforms the Morton Salt girl - the image of an everyday cooking product - in a piece commenting on "an age of a false sense of security, where nothing is sacred and nothing is really safe anymore," he said.

The girl, dressed patriotically, holds a bomb and dons a face of death. Her umbrella, which is supposed to protect her, is in flames. "Cuando Llueve, Llueve a Chorros" criticizes war and also states a universal theme that "destructive forces may be within all of us," he said.

Borrowing other recognizable images like the Cucamonga honey bear or the Tapatío hot sauce man, Navar remarks on our commercial society. "There's now a fine line between what you sell and what is considered sacred," he said. In another painting exhibited, he juxtaposes religious imagery with McDonald's and Starbucks logos.

"I have recurring mood swings. I can paint something peaceful, but then I'll have a statement about the war. But even when all hell breaks loose, I always want to have some sense of optimism, that better days are ahead for us, for the world." he said. It is his "mission" to bring optimism to people as an educator, artist and poet and to create art that allows others to foster their own interpretations.

Navar, who teaches at Ohlone College in Fremont and Contra Costa College in San Pablo, finds Spanish master Goya most to his liking, using his and other artist's images out of context to continue the legacy of art.

"Things work in cycles. Even though our wars are different from the wars Goya experienced, they both involve human suffering and pain," he said.

Navar continues these cycles and remembers the past by acknowledging it in his work.

The first contemporary artist to be inaugurated in San Tomas Fine Arts Gallery, Navar and gallery owner Tom Gomez are particularly excited to display a mix of Spanish Colonial and Contemporary Latino Art.

Just finishing shows in Hayward and Antioch and preparing for another at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago, the Lafayette resident has a reception at San Tomas Fine Arts Gallery on Oct. 4 from 7 to 9 pm. His work is also displayed at Latham Square in Oakland until Oct. 9 .

"Four Bay Area Artists Search for Meaning"

Is it just me or does it seem that we are all on a futile search for something deep and profound that, for the most part, seems utterly absent from our everyday lives? I mean, that is why we go to church, play sports, do scientific research, or travel right? Personally, I seek to reveal such ethereal notions in order to bring some sort of hope, joy and purpose to life.

Anyhow, I have recently been reassured this quest is not a burden I bear alone, thanks to the new exhibit, Cuatro Voces, in USF's Thacher Gallery. In this quiet space in the Gleeson Library, I found four others who, like me, seem to be searching for something meaningful through their artwork. As I examined the art pieces of Zulema Di Marco, Santiago Gervasi, Gabriel Navar and Veronica Rojas, I tried to see what, if anything, tied to see what, if anything, tied these four artists together. For one, they all work in the Bay Area an represent contemporary Latin American culture and identity. They also use art in an individual struggle for definition and meaning, each in his or her unique way.

Santiago Gervasi's huge canvases describe the human search for meaning in the most raw and basic way. Each painting is a confusion of imagery, texture and materials. He combines geometrical forms with sketches, subdued architectures and dark spaces to create a cluttered desktop, where the truth seems to be hidden somewhere within, yet is impossible to find. Sadly, this reminded me of my own workspaces and hopeless disorganization. On the bright side, Gervasi makes me realize I am not alone in this.

Veronica Rojas' work takes us out of the chaos, and puts us on a very specific search. Her paintings are a narrative where her symbol of the roped sphere seeks to define itself. I found myself a bit frustrated trying to translate her symbol system for myself, but I think that just goes to prove that the search for meaning is a very personal one. On a purely visual level I found the paintings delightful. They are humorous in their imagery, combining waxy and paper-like textures, pencil drawings and soft colors.

Continuing the theme of the search, Zulema Di Marco's stone sculptures are archeological in nature. She creates multiple textures in beautiful marble with each piece representing merely a fragment of some greater monument. The subjects of her pieces are primarily mythological. From the stone, Zulema attempts to excavate ancient truths and meanings that were known to humanity in centuries past, but are lost to us now.

Gabriel Navar takes our search in yet another direction, tapping into the unconscious. Visually his images are immediately attractive with his use of vibrant colors and surrealist compositions. Navar layers many images on top of one another, like a blurry realm of dreams. His paintings describe the emotional journey in search of roots, connectivity and community, and are hopelessly optimistic, describing a realm of unlimited possibilities.

So where does this all get me and my search for meaning? Each of the four artists in Cuatro Voces finds a different approach to the search, and therefore a different sliver of the truth. Gervasi tell me its all in the process. Di Marco claims it is in our communal history. Rojas suggests that it is a private understanding. And Navar joyfully forgets any constraints. So this get me precisely nowhere and everywhere, just as confused as ever. But I guess that means I will have to keep looking and working. As for you, you should definitely start your search in the Thacher Gallery.

" 'Cuatro Voces' at Thacher Gallery"

Cuatro Voces (Four Voices) raises a tricky question without necessarily meaning to. When it comes to a work of art, who does the talking, and who does the listening? The curatorial statement of Cuatro Voces introduces the four featured artists as speakers representing Òthe many voices of Latin American culture and identity, holding forth on spirituality, politics, death and myth. But an art gallery is not an academic symposium, and art at its best is far more than a treatise. Viewers stand transfixed, nodding and mumbling in front of a work of art not just because they've heard and understood the artist, but because the artist has also heard and understood them.

Serenata (Serenade) is a striking, inviting work by Navar, showing a hand reaching into man's open mouth to deposit the sun on his tongue. His eyes are closed, attuned to transcendent harmonies that have him humming along-- an image that succinctly captures the viewer's experience with some, if not all, of the work in Cuatro Voces.

"Singers Impressive in Premiere of Piece"

ST. PETERSBURG -- When a composer premieres a new piece, there is always a certain fear mixed with the anticipatory pleasure. Will it be understandable, not necessarily immediately hummable, but graspable to the moderately musically educated ear?

On Sunday afternoon, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay joined choral groups from area high schools in the "Festival of Voices," including the premiere of Paul Basler's Cantos Alegres (Joyful Songs). Jo-Michael Scheibe conducted.

With Spanish folk-based melodies mixed with sprightly rhythms and lush harmonies over angular accompaniment, Cantos Alegres is immediately accessible, yet challenging.

Accenting the nine-section piece is Gabriel Navar's poetry, which Basler used as inspiration. Navar's poetry is reminiscent of Neruda at his most delighted. Listen:

energy flows, flows . . . within me it enters in abundance the senses are a bridge when I fall with the force of water like a petal of light . . .

The strength and pleasure found even in this English translation are echoed by Basler's music. His French horn and the poetry of Navar give the piece an immediate consistency that is echoed by the singers. With both lush harmonies and La Bamba rhythms, Cantos Alegres contains much to be joyful about.

" "To Your Health!" at Euphrat Museum of Art"

To Your Health! is a kind of curatorial toast to the potential for art to function as a catalyst for physical, psychic and spiritual healing. Even the possibility that art might be available as a tool in the journey towards health must be seen as encouraging in a world where ill health and lack of access to health care abounds. While the exhibition is not initially obviously cohesive either in terms of aesthetics or technique, holding the disparate pieces together is a unifying thread of hope predicated on the notion that works of art might actually function to induce healing. The eleven artists participating in this exhibition essentially appear to act on faith, directly inspired by a need to return oneself, a loved one or the larger society to a state of balance, integration and health.

Shirley Fisher attempts to create visual invitations for the promotion of healing through photographs focusing on light as a theme with spiritual implications. Younhee Paik creates large-scale, predominately blue "sky paintings" designed to hang wavelike from the ceiling and to function as visual safe-houses. Both Sylvia Giblin's healing mandalas and Judy Schavrien's portraits record processes of personal transformations, while Dori Grace U. Lemen's outstretched garment invoking her female ancestors serves as a reminder of the relationship between connection, belonging, history and health.

Traditionally and cross-culturally, the sharing of food has provided opportunities for the forging of crucial and potentially health-inducing connections between mothers and children, families, larger social groups, and previously unconnected strangers. Secret Appetites, created by Robin Lasser and Kathryn Sylva, consists of an immense, sterile dining table set with ten empty black plates, each etched with the partial stories of survivors of eating disorders. Gabriel Navar's painting Probando un Peque–o Ombligo del Cielo depicts a young man aided by two walking sticks as he climbs the steps leading to a doorway, while behind him lies the fields and memories of the food-sustenance which has left behind. In this piece, food becomes a symbol of a positive and sustaining memory of connections, something almost tangible that can be carried as a talisman.

Tools or charms to be used for the calling and channeling of healing energy are offered by Kaleo Ching and Elise Dirlan-Ching in the forms of poems/incantations, artifacts and masks. The poems and artifacts function as fairy-dancers flitting around a series of densely decorated masks which seem to be reflections of specific qualities, desires or attributes designed for the summoning of internal strength and spirit-power. Hope is summoned into Sharon Siskin's Resistance, as huge bird wings accompanied by choir-like-call-and response text are etched into mirrors and wood framed from which hang small artifacts relating to seeds, wings, angels and rebirth. Reflections of the viewer created by the use of the mirror remind us of our own ephemerality and possibility for transcendence, while simultaneously pointing to our own collusion in the creation of meaning and the possibility for health.

"Visual diary Paintings and poetry from a Mexican-American artist in San Francisco"

A woman rests with her legs crossed. The shiny reddish light that comes out of her torso expands across the room to dilute the contours of her body. She is a spiritual novice who is communicating with the cosmos.

This is not a scene from the latest Hollywood movie. It's part of "Transcendencia," a new exhibition of the paintings and poetry by Mexican-American artist Gabriel Navar, currently on display at San Francisco's Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts.

Transcendence refers to "painting, creation, and poetry as a way of celebrating the imagination and existence," Navar told El Mensajero. "To transcend is to reach a more festive level... it's magic."

Gabriel paints the contents of his sweetest dreams and most terrible nightmares. "Each piece is a visual diary, a fragment of myself," says the artist. "It's exploration... an entrance to another level of oneself."

In this collection of spoken and painted images, the human figure constitutes a fundamental element, Navar follows his curiosity and celebrates man, recognizing his senses an consciousness. Gabriel also uses men and women to represent duality and the balance of nature. But his search goes beyond the visible elements that surround us. "It's a mixture of the conscious and subconscious world," says Navar.

"Transcendencia" highlights Navar's development throughout the years. Winner of several national awards in plastic arts, Navar has just completed his Masters in Arts at San Jose State University. "Painting has become a celebration and a knowledge of the expression of my being," said Navar.

"Transcendencia" is on display until February 28. Open to the public every day from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., between 24 St. and 25 St., San Francisco. For more information call (415) 821-1155

"California's Best Art League Hosts Statewide Show"

Every year the Santa Cruz Art League opens its doors to artists all over the state with its Annual Statewide Exhibit.

Juried by a Bay Area art professional, the resulting collection of work is typically eclectic. There's always lot of variety in style and medium. This year's 68th Annual Statewide is no exception in that regard.

Where this year's exhibit departs from past years is in overall quality of technique. The 68th Statewide presents some command performances in all mediums. Juried this year by Santa Cruz's very own Kathleen Moodie, curator of art for the Museum of Art an History, the 68th Statewide reflects not only Moodie's years of expertise in presenting stellar works of art for the Art and History Museum bu also her desire to showcase work that may be creatively beyond work traditionally seen in contemporary art.

That's not an unusual focus for the Art League which, in recent year, has demonstrated a penchant for encouraging creativity among regional artist. Moodie takes that penchant and ratchets it up a couple of notches.

In the end, the 68th Annual Statewide Exhibit is brimming with vitality and pache, a collection that dramatically showcases a small portion of California's artistic talent.

Curated by Richard Bennett the exhibit makes good use of the Art League's available wall space, forcing the eye to take in larger pieces from a distance and to ge close to smaller pieces. And, as usual, there is the wide variety of mediums: photography, mixed media, oil, acrylic, watercolor and sculpture. This year also features a piece by Steve Aubrey of San Jose that is accomplished with a lenticular 3-D graphic, a computer-generated version of a photograph that is created as seen from 20 different points of reference.

But the variety of technique is further enhanced by a variety of color. From Carolyn Fernandez's "Poolside Party !" to Lisa Merril Lippert's "The Eyes Have It," the exhibition is filled with a vivid an unabashed sense of color. No more resplendent in this color put to use than in Gabriel Navar's "Splinter of the Sun," an acrylic and oil painted wooden door that hangs suspended from the gallery's ceiling. A visual retelling of the Assumption of Mary, Navar gives us the image of a contemporary woman on the back of a snake that is held aloft by winged angel. The woman holds a picture frame and within it are additional figures standing in a river. The whole, evocative tableau is given particular brilliance by Navar's heady use of color. Strikingly rich, it gives the 68th Statewide an impressive centerpiece.

Indeed, the oils, acrylics and watercolors in this collection give the 68th Statewide a painterly feel. John Clendening's "Snow or Blueridge Apple Orchard" gives us a visually stunning remake of the traditional landscape, forcing the viewer to gaze long and hard at the dozens of apples gathered close range in wooden crates while the snow-covered Blueridge Mountains beckon from the distance. Kathryn Stowell's "Isabella" shows off her talent with brush stroke and color.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, folks. There are also haunting photo sculptures by Nancy Sevier, one of which took home one of the five exhibition awards. Diana Jacobs "View From the Porch" reeks of a wistful nostalgia that's adroitly accomplished by her etching skills. Aline Smithson and Jenny Doll contribute evocative photos and James B. Robertson has lots of fun with his steel and brass sculpture, "Joy Ride."

The 68th Annual Statewide Exhibit brims with creative life. What's more, it brings together not only experimentation and imagination but also a wealth of accomplished technique. Try not to miss it.

The 68th Annual Statewide Exhibit is on display at the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway in Santa Cruz, through Sept. 13.

Exhibition Essay

"Pay It Forward : Mel Ramos and Gabriel Navar"

The "Pay It Forward" art exhibition is an inspiring look at a remarkable mentor/mentee relationship initiated in 1991, when Gabriel Navar enrolled in Mel Ramos's "Painting 1" course at California State University, East Bay. Additionally, the show provides insight into the California School's stylistic legacy: a continuum from one generation to the next, charting an art historical trajectory marked by the four great sequoias of Bay-Area painting: Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Mel Ramos and Gabriel Navar. Thereby acknowledging "a" generous artistic inheritance genially passed down from Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) to Wayne Thiebaud, and then from Thiebaud to Ramos, and manifesting in the 21st Century in Navar's oeuvre.

Since the 1960s, Ramos (more than any other US-artist) vividly envisioned imaginative Pop Art fantasies (which in truth) pioneered an early groundbreaking form of radical-Postmodernism. This merger of Pop Art with radical-Postmodernism is evident in his images that ingeniously reference the old masters (i.e., Botticelli, Velazquez, Boucher, David, Ingres, Manet, Bonnard and Modigliani). In fact, not since Modigliani and Matisse has a painter so appropriately apprehended the sublime sensuality of feminine beauty as Ramos has. Ramos's signature Pop Art style consistently depicts sensual female subjects posing (in pin-up poses) alongside icons of "The America Dream" (i.e., commercial products, groceries, animals, and other mass-media props). A sublime Neo-Classicist unconsciously inspired by muses (especially Erato, the muse of sexuality and music), his art is simultaneously lyrical and monumental; these marvelous contradictory aesthetic tendencies are also apparent in all the great California Rock-Roll songs generated by The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Pappas, The Grateful Dead and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ramos is unquestionably the only contemporary visual artist that has boldly endeavored to metaphorically portray the Jeffersonian "The Pursuit of Happiness," while symbolically approximating or pursuing (via his art) an authentic and unfeigned California-version of "The American Dream."

Unlike Ramos, muses do not inspire the disturbing and bizarre images of Gabriel Navar, whose motivation, according to Federico Garcia Lorca's essay The Play and Theory of the Duende (1933), probably derives from a confluence angels/devils. Yet, despite Navar's obvious fascination with the apparent (although poorly veiled) underlying Gothic horror of American life, which is described throughout US-literature, i.e., Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Edith Wharton and John Updike; Navar's viewers must be warned that (like a cobra) he captivates his audience with shocking images that intrigue, and then, unexpectedly forces unsuspecting viewers to confront their deepest fear(s). Via Youtube references and "platforms," he generates innovative and new "push/pull" effect(s) that satirically afford an iconological critique leveled against high-tech media-culture with its glut of visual information, intending to brainwash, control, side-track, seduce and/or sell something to intended audiences. Navar's Web-based imagery examines 21st century technophilia, which utterly permeates contemporary social-consciousness, manifesting as web-surfing; participating in numerous social networking sites, enjoying chronic Youtube viral-phenomena, or roaming through the vast world of "apps."

If Ramos is lyrically (musically) and harmoniously painting the "American Dream," then Navar is poetically depicting the "American Nightmare." By analyzing 21st Century digital communication, smart applications, and other Habermasian ideal-communication EtherNet intrusions, Navar offers a techno-world where sadomasochistic self-victimization and hyper-alienation accentuate isolation and paranoia, similar to the prophetic Mexican Surrealist poems of Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, or the Italian Metaphysical School paintings of Georgio DeChirico, as well as is evident in Diebenkorn's lonely and abandoned stark California coastline vistas. Thus, the California School is split between the bright hopeful optimism of Ramos and Thiebaud; and the empty tragic despair that haunts the paintings of Diebenkorn (conveying distant vast sociological alienation) or Navar's panache for dramatic confrontation (devising and divulging intimate domestic psychological alienation).

Notwithstanding their clear distinctions, Ramos and Navar have numerous things in common, e.g., they both challenge innate US-Puritanical-conservativism; both create prolifically with an energetic inborn work-ethic; both utilize "high-key" clashing, pulsating, and intense "punchy" chroma; both predominantly employ human figures in their work (unlike Diebenkorn with his vistas and Thiebaud with his bodegones), Ramos and Navar exploit advertising, billboards, logos, products (subliminal merchandise sales-strategies) and their art is constantly alluding to pop-culture. Their formal compositions rely generally on "centralized" monumental heroic figural images, replete with subtle or abrupt emblematic iconology (for Ramos, sexuality, sensuality, seduction and erotic-fantasies are key elements); while Navar transmits, in a "tongue-in-cheek" manner, prospective horror-film-scenes, which capture both sinister and, at times, comical human dramas. These Navarian dramas are disturbing scenes from a "new" hyper-technological Neo-Theater of the Absurd, signifying irrational, nihilistic, and anxiety-ridden Post-Information Age vignettes that fosters alienation, and "Neo-neosurrealism."

Television Reviews

Good Morning Northwest plug for Mid-Columbia Mastersingers' "Cantos de la Vida" choral concerts