Closing out the year on an enjoyable note an artist from Puerto Rico and Savannah, Georgia has opened a small exhibition here in Santa Fe. The show is at the new incarnation of what was formerly the Jane Sauer Gallery, now called Tansey Contemporary owned by Mike and Jennifer Tansey. Jennifer comes from the world of marketing and Mike is known in the art fair world as a majority owner in Art Miami, Inc.
Last May we “discovered” Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s work at the Jane Sauer gallery and were tipped off that there would be this show in December. Why in the world did we want to buy a contemporary work of art on Canyon Road when we have been concentrating all these years on our Native American collection with a smattering of New Mexican Hispanic art. Since I always look for a reason I decided that Muñiz was legitimately Hispanic working in the Spanish colonial painting tradition! I actually checked this out with a curator in Denver who confirmed that this was correct.
When we met the artist at the exhibition opening we learned that he was born in Puerto Rico and went to college there but decided after he received his degree to visit the States to meet his father for the first time in his home in Savannah, Georgia. He then went for his Masters in Fine Arts to the Savannah College of Art and Design.
As you probably already suspect the Hispanic and Spanish Colonial connection are not the real reason we bought a painting, just an idea I played with to justify our purchase. Obviously, we were taken with the work. The artist is steeped in the European painting tradition and has learned the Old Masters’ techniques. We found a mixture of originality and social commentary on our life experiences.
The painting we own is a triptych titled “The Blessed Gamer”. The artist explains the subjects as “The power and influence of games and guns in America”. He does not depict shooters and dead bodies but rather a humorous metaphor. The center panel appears to be a Holy Family but this Mary and Joseph are a Hispanic immigrant couple praying for their son, a chubby blond boy holding up a Gameboy in one hand and a handgun in the other. On the right wing St. Christopher carries a rifle on his shoulder ostensibly to protect the pistol-packing infant cowboy. Do note the Pac Man symbols on the bottom and the soft drink cup which says “Super Big Gulp”. There is so much more going on in this triptych as in all Munñiz’s paintings. I am hoping that my gloss on a few images will tempt you to look further into the artist’s work.
The image of Saint Sebastian is called “Fire Arms Nation”. The artist describes it as “an exploration of violence and the gun culture in the United States”. There is so much going on here that again one could devote several pages to describing the painting both as the artist does or possible alternate interpretations. Beside the chained man to the left of St. Sebastian, the figure of Christ bearing the cross to the right, and the boy with a gun standing guard there is a television set with bullet holes in it. The artist says this is a comment on the violence on TV, an alternate interpretation might be that the television’s owner became tired of the mediocrity of the media.
Do note the wonderful frames on the paintings. The simplest ones the artist makes himself but he has found a master frame maker in Guatemala who does the more elaborate ones in the colonial tradition.
Muñiz’s devotion to the Old Masters is even more evident in two paintings: “El Papa”, the Pope and “La Papisa” the Popess.
Their source is found in Tarot cards. Tarot was a card game found in France and Italy as well as other parts of Europe. The first reference to the game is in 1391. The study of Tarot cards is a major endeavor in its own right but suffice it to say that eventually the cards became associated with mysticism and magic. By extension the cards were used for divination, using signs to see the future and the unknown.
“El Papa” is inspired by the fifth card of Major Arcana of the Tarot representing the Pope. Also, Muniz is looking at a painting by José Campeche’s painting of St. Clement. José Campeche was a Puerto Rican artist who lived from 1751 to 1809. Muñiz leaves no stone unturned when it comes to seeking knowledge of the past. If only more artists would look to their predecessors and history then relate it to the present. In this case the artist is commenting on a world ruled by finance. Note the coat of arms at the top with the initials WB (World Bank) and IMF (International Monetary Fund) underneath, and on the right the scales with the chained naked man on one side and the cash on the other far outweighing him. So it goes throughout the painting.
Underneath each of these pictures he has painted 3 small panels called a predella. Traditionally, the predella served to show scenes from the life of the Saint depicted on the principal panel. In “El Papa” the predella shows St. Peter’s Basilica, representing religion and wealth in the center and a begging woman and a begging man painted on the side panels.
“La Papisa”, relating to the Tarot card by this name and adapted from another colonial image, shows a female Pope as the symbol of Woman’s Lib. To drive home this fact Muñiz includes the image of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” on the laptop in front of the Popess. The predella here is devoted to women and many of their traditional depictions.
The show can be seen at Tansey Contemporary on Canyon Road through January 31. It is not a bad idea to study up first at their excellent website where you can find the images from the show as well as the artist’s detailed descriptions of his works and the symbolism therein. Then see the show and find your own interpretation of the paintings.