Review by Sean Quinn (12/5/2020)
When most people think of Latinx art, images of lush Mexican flora or august religious
symbolism probably come to mind. In reality though, Hispanic artists are not defined solely by their culture. Their work actually encompasses a wide range of themes, and nothing proves that more than the West Orange Arts Council’s latest exhibit.
“Visiones de Identidad: A Latinx Perspective” — which is running both virtually on the WOAC website and in-person at the West Orange Arts Center through Dec. 12 — features pieces depicting everything from animals to musicians to abstract imagery, with no two artists sharing the same style. This was no accident. Co-curators Maria Estrela and Rey Arvelo deliberately set out to assemble the most diverse mixture of artists possible to convey the true spirit of the term “Latinx” — a collection of genders, nationalities and stories.
And the participating artists were thrilled by the opportunity.
“It is an honor to be able to show some artistic work and to be able to share and unite the
community through art,” Stanley Gavidia, who has two paintings featured in the exhibit, said.
“Art will always be a universal language.”
Gavidia’s work is especially accessible to people of all cultures. That’s because, according to the artist, he focuses on emotions and states of consciousness in his paintings rather than his Hispanic heritage. His two pieces displayed in the show are good examples of that. “Is the Sky Really Blue?” and “The Things Left Unsaid” reflect the concept of animals thinking and
interacting like humans, he explained.
But beyond that general idea, Gavidia stressed it is up to the viewers to fix meaning to his
paintings. And they can be interpreted in many different ways.
“I frequently hear the question ‘What do these images mean?’ Gavidia said. “A better question would be, ‘Do these images convey any emotional truth?’”
There’s also much to unpack in Renzo Florez’s paintings. The artist said he always incorporates a lot of symbolism in his art, forcing viewers to engage with his work on a deeper level as they unravel its many layers. As a result, he hopes those who view the three paintings he has displayed in the exhibit — “All Circuits Broken,” “Delusional” and “Tears of Joy,” which reflect his emotions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — look very closely at his imagery because there’s a lot of hidden meanings to discover. The more people try to decipher his veiled messages, the happier Florez will be because his goal as an artist is to get people to open their minds.
“I want to convey a story, I want something for people to think about and I want something fun for myself and for the person who’s watching the painting,” Florez said. “You can paint a
beautiful face or a beautiful landscape. That’s good, that’s amazing. But personally, I want
Florez said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from gallery visitors who’ve immersed
themselves in his artwork, which is very fulfilling to him as a young painter still perfecting his
craft. He also appreciated the chance to meet and learn from the other talented artists
participating in the show, pointing out that he’s impressed by their varying techniques and
Perhaps the most unique pieces featured in the exhibit belong to Carlos Mateu, who painted images of animals and insects on horseshoe crab shells. Mateu said he was inspired to use the shells as artistic mediums after noticing the interesting shapes of several that had washed up on the shore of a beach in Avalon, NJ. He collected them, sanded them and primed their surfaces before applying his acrylic paint, letting the shell’s features dictate the subjects of his works. For instance, he chose to paint a unicorn on one because he saw the horseshoe crab’s tail could act as the mythical creature’s horn.
Using horseshoe crab shells for art is certainly an unusual concept, but the idea came naturally to Mateu. The artist explained that nature is his muse, so he always looks to the environment for inspiration. Likewise, he hopes everyone who views his works will walk away from the exhibit with a newfound appreciation for the world and the life around them.
“Most of my work, even the horseshoe crabs, is about connection,” Mateu said. “We’re all
connected. We are a whole family. Some people don’t want to think that way — they want to
discriminate. But I want people to see they have to respect each other’s space and respect life, including all kinds of animals. And I want people to realize we have to protect the environment for the future of the next generation.”
Despite their different styles and motivations, all three painters are grateful for the chance to
display their works at a time when many Latinx artists are being overlooked. In fact, a 2019
study from researchers at Williams College and the University of California, Los Angeles found Hispanic and Latino artists accounted for just 2.8 percent of the artists featured in 18 major American museums. An exhibit like “Visiones de Identidad” is therefore rare, and Gavidia, Florez and Mateu each said they appreciated the WOAC for showcasing Hispanic artists.
The three artists were also excited about the chance to share their art during the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic, which has caused many galleries to shut down. And they hope people do take advantage of the opportunity to experience the exhibit either in-person or online. As Florez pointed out, “Visiones de Identidad” has much to offer.
“This is a great chance to support local artists and to give more attention to the arts, which is an area that’s sometimes forgotten,” Florez said, adding that people don’t need to trek into New York City to experience powerful work. “There’s a lot of talent here that you need to check out.”
There will be even more chances to discover new artists through the WOAC in the coming
months. The council is already hard at work planning its next exhibit, and it encourages patrons to stay tuned to its website and social media accounts for updates. Despite the coronavirus, WOAC Chairwoman Patricia Mitrano said, the council remains committed to its mission of enriching people’s lives through art. “Art connects our community even in the face of obstacles,” Mitrano said. “In spite of COVID-19, the West Orange Arts Council presented in-person gallery and online art exhibits, held art workshops and partnered in community events this year. The pandemic has brought us together to help artists and to share the restorative powers of art with our community.”
Those interested in “Visiones de Identidad: A Latinx Perspective” can view the virtual gallery at https://www.westorangeartscouncil.org. People can also experience the show in-person by visiting the West Orange Arts Center, though appointments are required to ensure social
distancing. To reserve your time, email firstname.lastname@example.org.