KEPLER-186F: PAINTINGS BY RENÉ TREVIÑO
On August 28th, McDaniel College opened its exhibition on the work of René Treviño in the Rice Gallery. Upon stepping into the gallery space, one immediately becomes bombarded by bright, vibrant colors. Highlighter pinks and out-of-the-bottle blues; busy patterns and flattened silhouettes; five large pieces countered by a wall of smaller works arranged in a grid. The information presented to the viewer within seconds of stepping into the gallery results in a sort of channel flipping overload. Turning from the toile-patterned paintings to the installation of 11” x 14” works, it is easy to be swallowed by the tidal wave of imagery. Each of these paintings gives the appearance of prints: clean, neat edges and even, flat colors. Upon close inspection, however, the acrylic paint reveals itself in multiple layers of short strokes.
Despite the abundance of information flying across the room, as the gridded wall interacts with the opposing paintings, the artist’s themes blend neatly together. Treviño addresses subject matter pertaining to the Southwest, Mexico, and elements of Americana life; he provides contrast and complement to these themes with those of ancient cultures and Western art. Additionally, Treviño’s work features themes of sexual identity and the concept of “maleness”. Each piece gives the subject its space, often off-center, to provide room for the consideration of color or lack thereof. The clean lines and print-like style read like a syllabary of a personal mythology, written in pictographs. This stylization works well with the artist’s intention of providing himself a history that accurately reflects his own experiences. His use of movement works to express sexuality, while his paintings of historical subjects are still. Similarly, the use of bright pink in many of his works is an act of rebellion, applied to historical subjects to recontextualize an experience that is otherwise off-limits. Pink, a taboo color, opens up the burly masculine histories of Western America to reinterpretation.
What truly stuck with me about Treviño’s collection is his efforts to find himself in a world that is otherwise hostile towards him for his sexuality. His two cultures, those of Mexico and Southwestern America (Texas), typically reject homosexuality– whether through American political conservativeness or Mexican Catholic traditions. Though born into two worlds, there is not enough space under either flag to find room for himself. As a result, the work American Flag, Swirl perfectly encapsulates the idea of editing the emblem of a nation to better suit your identity within it. The pressed flower pattern, overlaid on an old American flag, keeps the Americana spirit while expressing the need for something more– more representation, more respect, more understanding. Treviño’s work speaks not only for himself, but for all those who have tried and failed to fall neatly into their cultural roots by birth.
Treviño’s collection covers a wide array of subjects. His toile study paintings consider imperfections in repetition. Aztec Saddled Donkey, as well as numerous works found on the gridded wall, addresses Western influence on Central American culture, as well as imperialism and the importance of tradition. His work featuring the male body examines sexuality and identity. The distinct separation between these subjects may cloud the ultimate intended purpose of this show. A more developed collection or statement would provide more cohesion for the work to play off itself, rather than competing for the viewer’s attention. Nonetheless, the art effectively conveys the artist’s perception of himself and the world. His stylistic choices certainly keep one occupied, and despite the variations in subject and color palette, the collection as a whole has a firm grasp on visual unity. To view this show is to immerse oneself in the complex retelling of the artist’s history, culture, and community in a way that justifies his experiences and the experiences of others who may find themselves in similar situations.
–– Katherine Stein, 2 September 2014