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May 22, 2005
Art Pick of the Week

Polemical plus pensive

Rupert Garcia tones down didactism in recent works
By Victoria Dalkey, The Sacramento Bee Art Correspondent

"Mascara IV" by Rupert Garcia departs from the artist's earlier political works. b. sakata garo
A show of works by Bay Area artist Rupert Garcia at b. sakata garo moves from silk-screen posters that address social issues to pastels and paintings that pay homage to family, personal heroes and Mexican culture.

Garcia, who grew up in Stockton and teaches at San Jose State University, is a founder of the Chicano art movement and a veteran of anti-Vietnam War marches and other political actions. While he is one of the most prominent Chicano artists in the country, his work transcends ethnic boundaries and addresses global issues such as racism, war, police brutality and other forms of injustice.

Many of Garcia's earlier works in the show are posters that draw upon some of the same strategies that Andy Warhol and other artists of the 1960s used in their paintings and prints. Like the pop artists, he appropriates imagery from mass media and pop culture, using simplified forms and hot, jarring color to portray cultural icons such as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and political figures such as Mao Zedong. Garcia's poster of Kahlo, for example, resembles Warhol's portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, though its intent seems to be one of earnest admiration rather than ironic critique.

Earnest, too, and unrelentingly didactic are posters, including "Ceylon Tea: Product of European Exploitation," with its image of the Lipton Tea man raising a dainty cup to his lips, and an intaglio print, "Now and Then," which juxtaposes images of Columbus' ships with a warship in the Persian Gulf during the first Iraq war.

Ranging from saintly portraits of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to a large painting of the silhouette of Columbus overlaid with meandering markings, much of the show seems a glossary of leftist politics that might strike even a die-hard liberal as preachy, predictable and lacking in nuance.

Nevertheless, works such as "Attica Es Fascismo" and "The Bicentennial Art Poster" are icons of Chicano art and a part of American history and politics that might easily be overlooked in the today's increasingly conservative mainstream culture.

Several of Garcia's more recent works depart from political polemics to explore more-complex, ambiguous and personal territory. "Mascara IV," a large painting of a fierce animal mask made up of brightly colored confetti-like markings, is a striking expressionistic image. "For Magritte," an homage to the Belgian painter, is an appropriately surreal image of the artist as an invisible man thrown up against a stone wall. In addition to Magritte, Garcia offers imaginative images of Fernand Leger and Vincent Van Gogh, the latter with brightly colored irises springing up from his head.

Other intriguing works are a wonderfully smudgy drawing of a fertility mask with a long nose and an inchoate but searching painting of an animal - perhaps a deer - in a dappled, abstract landscape. It is dedicated to Garcia's aunt Juana and grandmother Guadalupe from Jalostotitlan in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Rupert Garcia: Selections

WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.

WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through June 4

INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276