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November 20, 2005
Art Pick of the Week

Rivera's evolution

Quarter-century of Mexican artist's works on view
By Victoria Dalkey, The Sacramento Bee Art Correspondent

Satuarted color and a light-hearted approach distinguish this art of Gustavo Ramos Rivera. b. sakata garo
Gustavo Ramos Rivera's abstract paintings and monotypes at b. sakata garo are vibrant, highly intuitive works that blend childlike freedom and suave sophistication. The artist, who was born in Mexico in 1940 and settled in San Francisco in 1969, brings a joyful sense of color and a playful spirit to the task of making art.

A catalog of Rivera's work produced by the Hackett-Freedman Gallery earlier this year traces the evolution of his works over the past 25 years. The artist, who is self-taught, claims no direct influence from other artists save for the "architecture of (Paul) Klee, the gestures of (Antonio) Tapies." But one can see the relationship between his works of the early 1980s with those of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. As the works progress in time, there are echoes of other artists such as Hans Hoffman, Henri Matisse and Joan Miró, and closer to home, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Hudson, William Wiley and Frank Lobdell.

Walking into the show at b. sakata garo, you almost think you have come upon a Lobdell exhibition. But there are differences. Rivera's recent works are looser, less rigid and more lighthearted than Lobdell's. Interrupting fields of saturated color with quixotic linear doodling and surreal biomorphic forms, Rivera activates his compositions in ways reminiscent of Lobdell, as well as Klee and Miró.

Placing these markings against lush fields of color (burning yellows, verdant greens, aquatic blues that remind you of Matisse), he creates landscapes of the mind remarkable for their sheer loveliness. The radiant warmth of some works suggests sunny Southern climes, while the earthy tones of others call up Southwestern deserts.

In an interview with Bob Judd in the Hackett-Freedman catalog, Rivera, who was born in Ciudad Acuña close to the U.S. border, recalls his earliest visual memories.

"I remember being under the trees and seeing the sun come through the leaves and sunlight making green movements all over the ground," he told Judd. Rivera went on to describe his grandmother's house, where "the floor was earth, brown earth."

 At that age, he continued, "everything is magnified. The insects are bigger. The sun coming up is so vivid. And the sound is very distinct and clear."

One senses this engagement in many of the works in the show, especially the monotypes from Smith Anderson Editions in Palo Alto. A yellow form in one piece suggests a bug on its back waving its legs at the sun; a warm background in another calls up the earthy tones of his grandmother's house and the foothills around it.

But there is also a sense of sophisticated play in several more subdued works that appear to combine chine colle, etching and hand coloring. Though identified as monoprints, they incorporate passages that look like drypoint, and the delicate papers fused to the prints give them a subtle sheen that sets off their more intricate lines and quieter colors. In contrast to the ease - one might almost say glibness - of his brighter works, they achieve a more intricate and delicate sense of poetry.

Gustavo Ramos Rivera: Paintings and Prints

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

WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through December 3

INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276