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Rupert Garcia / MATRIX 79

November 22, 1984 - January 15, 1985

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Une Enigme/A Riddle, 1984

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Since 1975 Bay Area artist Rupert Garcia has created vibrantly colored and boldly designed pastel paintings. His subject matter, drawn from documentary photographs and paintings, includes radically cropped, close-up portraits of artistic mentors (Francisco Goya, Rufino Tamayo); political revolutionaries (Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; Mao Tse-tung), and unnamed victims of political oppression, such as the murdered protester in The Assassination of a Striking Mexican Worker.

Recent multi-panel works like Une Enigme/A Riddle combine Garcia's art historical and political concerns. Portraits of Fernand Leger (admired by Garcia for his artistic contributions and leftist politics) and Eugene Delacroix flank a detail from Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People portraying the triumphant "Liberty," symbolic leader of the French Revolution.

Like the Mexican muralists, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Siqueiros, with whom Garcia feels an affinity, Garcia's political concerns are central to his art. Radicalized by the Third World student protests and peace movements that were taking place in the late sixties when he was an art student at San Francisco State College, Garcia abandoned easel painting. He devoted himself to the silkscreening of political posters that were later inspired by the abstract, two-dimensional style of Cuban revolutionary posters he saw in 1970 in an exhibition at San Francisco's Galeria de la Raza. Garcia became one of the best known and respected poster makers in the Bay Area, a major center for Chicano poster production. He developed a style characterized by interlocking large, flat and brightly colored shapes that operated on both an abstract and descriptive level, with written words kept to a minimum.
Garcia eventually found the silkscreen process too mechanical and indirect. The transition to the use of pastel as his primary medium occurred in 1975 when Garcia superimposed pastel drawings over his prints. Pastel is a delicate medium, usually associated with subtle color and modest scale (one thinks of Edgar Degas's sketches, for example). Garcia, however, exploits the medium's capacity for producing brilliant hues and sensuous texture in large works on paper.

Although Garcia's identification with his ethnic heritage and with the oppressed peoples of the Third World form the content of his work, "his engagement" as Peter Selz observed, "is definitely with the creation of art." The power of his work derives from Garcia's ability to communicate his message through a strong, decorative style. Though Garcia's use of simplified and abstracted planes of color associates him stylistically with such artists as Henri Matisse and Milton Avery (MATRIX 34), his commitment to an art of social protest places him in the tradition of artists from Goya to Leon Golub (MATRIX 59). Once unfashionable, politically radical art is finding a wider audience in the U.S. just as the country moves toward political conservatism. The recent international resurgence of expressionist and figurative art, with its emphasis on content, has opened the door to art of social protest.

Not Again is Garcia's newest work. It depicts a man's face, partially obscured by his open hand, placed against a painterly background of soft green, ochre and orange streaks. Along wit the use of less aggressive color, Garcia has replaced the sharp edges typical of earlier works with softer transitions. The increased stylistic subtlety in Not Again corresponds to the decreased specificity of the subject matter. Not Again is a universal protest.

Garcia was born in French Camp, California, in 1941 to a Mexican-American family. His earliest introduction to art came through relatives-one grandmother made tissue paper dolls and another designed costumes for a local Mexican dance troupe. Garcia served in the Security Service of the U.S. Air Force from 1962 to 1966. The diptych Prometheus Under Fire, juxtaposing a bomber and a severely foreshortened supine figure of a victim, is based on his experiences in Southeast Asia. After his military release, Garcia enrolled in San Francisco State College, where he received a B.A. in Painting and Drawing (1968) and an M.A. in Printmaking (1970). In 1981 he was awarded an M.A. in the History of art at UC Berkeley. Garcia has taught at UC Berkeley in the Chicano Studies Program since 1979 and in the School of Environmental Design since 1982.

Constance Lewallen

MATRIX is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Agency.