Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Spirit Is There in Every Boy

Detail of Rescue Breathing No. 2 (2010) by Abel Baker Gutierrez

Last Saturday, I attended the Luis De Jesus Gallery's opening of "Swimming", a solo show featuring the works of Abel Baker Gutierrez. The images are inspired by '50s era photos and films of Boy Scouts, specifically in regards to water-related survival training. From this source material, Gutierrez has contextualized the imagery within a dark, ambiguous but vaguely menacing setting. The technique and style of these oil paintings evoke a 19th century feel, part Realisim and part late Romanticism.

The overall effect is haunting. There is an incongruity between image and style. We imagine the boy scouts training in a bright, sunny setting, but these paintings are dark and mysterious. The style is associated with nude female bathers and naturalist wooded landscapes, but here we have energetic youths and rowboats. A subtle sense of wrongness pervades these works. Yet, the images are compelling compositions, with hints of narrative inspired by the clash of subject and style.

Above as Below No. 6 (2010) By Abel Baker Gutierrez

Gutierrez's exquisite painterly technique creates a rich surface texture and engaging play of light and shadow. All these elements combine to make this a fascinating show.

But my favorite element to the exhibit is how it captures the "spirit" of the youths within the darkened context. This is most notable in the video part of the show. Footage of boy scouts at play around a pair of picnic tables has been reworked into a spectral display, with the ghostly children silently frolicking within the silver environment. It's creepy, but the sense of play still comes through as powerful presence. Likewise, check this out:

Gazing at His Own Reflection (2010) by Abel Baker Gutierrez

The original photo probably showed a boy scout relaxing by the water, gazing at his reflection. The contextualization creates a darker feel, but the sense of introspection is still pervasive. It's a captivating image.

Here's a vid featuring typical modern merit training for Boy Scouts. Definitely, a different mood characterizes the footage. ;-)

Anyways, I highly recommend this exhibit.

Here's the Luis De Jesus Gallery website.

Here's Abel Baker Gutierrez's website.

And here's the Boy Scouts Wikipedia page.


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