Wednesday, December 30, 2009


West Loop Trilogy – Part 2 Juan Angel Chavez: Dragging the LeashLinda Warren GalleryChicagoDecember 11 – January 16, 2010
jeffery mcnary - NEOTERICART

Juan Angel Chavez’s solo exhibition, “Dragging the Leash”, now at the Linda Warren Gallery, lays out a sermon. It presents an emblematic voyagers tale told in pressed wood and street found jagged things tidied up and made to rejoice. It leads the viewer off the curb like an intruder, into circles of the semi-starved and discarded and the opera which runs aside such cultures. It bites, while not drawing blood. It’s way past that. “My work has always had a consistent theme that relates to the notion of being free while being tied to the responsibilities of civilization”, he says. “This is what I call feral work. Thematically speaking, it’s about the ingenuity of survival.” It’s the central activity of this show.
Upon entering the exhibition, “Otherside”, a 3-D collage, beckons the viewer to bend or squat, to take a look inside of the orange, battered construction barrel on its side, back lit, encouraging a peep. “On this particular body of work I’m focusing on the idea of being homeless, the consumption of decay and transient ways of life”, Chavez says. This piece, more or less, kicks off his tour, saddled upon cut waves of wood. Social demanding art has fascinated Shakespeare and many the philosopher – Aristotle, Plato, mac-man Machiavelli to name a few, and a posse or two of rappers. There’s rough shit in that landscape. Mouths move and words don’t come out.
But then…comes now, “Last Breath”, mixed media, with its near overwhelming narrative quality. “Last Breath” is about watching someone die in front of my eyes”, the artist rises. “It’s the contradiction…of life and death and the tranquility in the eyes as he went. I began working on layers until I achieved the feeling of that moment. That is my ultimate goal in the work. I want them to be felt while they are looked at.” Antlers reach from the work, along with tufts of fur, burned wood and a melted plastic letter. And it dictates sadly and clearly, in long hand, the story of another pilgrim’s engagement with concrete and cold.
The circular emerges in many of the artist’s works. Segments of “Deep Scars”, produce a star filled sky effect. Another side of the same work carries a wooden log, back-lit to portray a fire, camp or barrel, providing sympathy and warmth for the resident. The homeless often decorate their spaces and Chavez captures that with a small banner of a male and female figure hanging from the work. Each piece holds its own history. “Shine”, sneers out the memory of a deer, or man, or woman frozen in the headlights of a vehicle where they’d best not be.
Mr. Chavez’s career making art rolled out with his murals around Chicago’s neighborhoods. He has been a prolific figure on that scene with a major work, a mural on the city’s major transit line. “My grand mother drew me to art and the influences have been vast”, the artist shares, continuing, “My influence draws from Rushenberg, Chuck Close, Gordon Matta Clark and others. But, I’m also inspired by outsider art. I’m inspired by what I consider the battle against permanence, which includes daily displays of overcoming what we build and what we forget.” There are other works here one just must spend time with.
The step into the Linda Warren Gallery is a bold, and can be seen as a ‘breakout’ move for the artist. It’s charming. Such ether is a gear shift from the non-for-profit board driven options having housed much of his works and messages in the past and have provided limited choices, and visibility. Will such a move call for a new direction for the artist? Will the pieces fight back as they sometime do? “I wrestle with all of them but they all have a different fight”, he shares. “Some start out huge and end up small. Others are simple and complicated at the same time. When they get overwhelming I usually go for a walk until clarity appears.”
No one can predict the fate of Chavez’s subjects, or the terms and direction of his brilliant, conscious art. “I’m wanting to continue this same path. I have several projects I want to develop regarding this direction. So, it’s hard for me to say what’s the direction. I’m going with this work. I guess you are going to have to wait and see.” And that we will, sir, eager and anxious.

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