Enrique Chagoya at Gallery Paule Anglim
A Lethal Cocktail of Art & Politics
Perfectly timed to the run up against the election, Enrique Chagoya's new drawings at Gallery Paule Anglim prove yet again that he is an artist of both style and substance. With facile hand and rigorous intellect, the artist continues to mine comic and history books with equal vigor, creating arresting artworks that put into context the current global state of affairs.
Chagoya imitates with ease the frenetic, cartoon drawing style of Philip Guston in Poor George -- After PG, 2004 a suite of ten 14"x16" ink drawings that serve as a timely update of Guston's "Tricky Dick" series. In Poor George, Bush, Cheney, and friends replace Richard Nixon and his White House cohorts as subjects for satire. Often funny (Bush depicted, literally, as a dick-head with a penis nose and a pair of testicles for a chi) and sometimes biting (Bush posing for a photograph with a miniature figure of Condelezza Rice dressed as a organ grinder monkey) they are guaranteed to crack a smile (or smirk) on the face of any staunch Bush-hater. As with another group of drawings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs characters with the heads of, among others, Bush (Dopey), Rumsfeld (Grumpy), and Osama bin Laden (the old witch), they serve as a simple and direct condemnation of the president and his political circle.
While setting up Bush for target practice may not be the most difficult or original endeavor, these small drawings are a much-needed intellectual rest from Chagoya's signature works in the show. Calling himself an "alternative historian" Chagoya creates unusual pairings of pop cultural, art historical, and religious icons to highlight the friction of cultures in collision. In four large 60"x60" charcoal drawings Chagoya uses a limited number of these icons to create simple, evocative compositions. The pick of the litter is a drawing of Alice from Wonderland on top of a dodo bird, stopping, coyly with one finger, a fighter jet flown by two Jesus figures. With the word "utopia" stenciled along its bottom edge it gives new meaning to the bumper sticker phrase, "Jesus is my co-pilot."
Jesus is at the controls of another plane, this time a commercial jetliner in The Ghost of Liberty. Modeled after Aztec codices, The Ghost of Liberty and its companion piece The Labyrinth of Liberty are a smorgasbord of seemingly free associated images of Buddha heads, Mayan gods, Aztec pyramids, Jesus-headed dinosaurs, the most wanted Baath party members playing cards, tiny alien space ships, and more. All make reference to the project of colonization including the war on terrorism and the current US occupation of Iraq. Both paintings end with a scene of the lone ranger on a carriage drawn by a dark skinned woman on a camel. Conflicts may change but if you think there is a new world order Chagoya would probably disagree with you. For now, as for the last five hundred-plus years, the comforts of the Western world are born on the backs of brown, black, and yellow people.