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Paint the Power

Richard Godinez's large paintings attack current events head on

By Michael S. Gant

IN HIS current show at MACLA, "Counter-Representations," San Jose artist Richard Godinez traffics in big ideas expressed on a large scale. His oils and pastels are wall-sized and function like high-art posters protesting imperialism and globalization. New World Order depicts the American national bird as a Teutonic double eagle, with the flag of a conquered or oppressed Third Word country on the tips of the wing feathers. In the corners, vignettes of vacationers and burgers are contrasted with a starving child and a beggar's tin can. Beneath, Between, Beyond is divided horizontally. A panel of brownish sky and a band of flames and billowing smoke from a protest fire sandwich an ominous silhouette of a helicopter against a blood-red backdrop—this mechanized angel of death is perhaps waiting to swoop in on the street rioters below.

Freely lifting from La Liberté, Delacroix's familiar scene from the French Revolution, Historical Inevitability is sectioned into quadrants: two squares reproduce the bare-breasted, tricolor-waving, musket-toting allegorical figure of Liberty and a proletarian soldier attacking the redoubts of royalty; the other two squares show modern-day rebels throwing Molotov cocktails and brandishing a Mexican flag like a spear. Godinez exaggerates the sense of upheaval by turning two of the squares so that the figures are upside down or slanted at an impossible angle. The world is truly turned upside down when the people at bottom set out to topple the rulers at the top. At the same time, the piece hints at a message tinged with despair—just as revolutions are inevitable, so too is the need to man the barricades again and again, age after age.

The most impressive work is the large rectangular oil Shit Kicker, a three-segment panorama of a desert war, complete with tanks, burning vehicles and insurgent fighters. The painting's title is emblazoned on a ribbonlike military decorative swag across the top. An oval cartouche on the left shows a homeless U.S. Marine veteran, one of many to come in the wake of our misadventure in Iraq; on the right, a barely visible stealth bomber roars through the skies. The bold assurance of Godinez's technique is reminiscent of the large political/religious allegories of Philippine painter Manual Ocampo.

In some cases, Godinez's technique outruns his ideas. English Only, a huge charcoal on paper, wittily compares America's linguistic xenophobia with the Tower of Babel, but the idea would have worked just as well as a political cartoon in a newspaper.

Godinez will discuss his work on Thursday (Sept. 30) at 6:30pm at MACLA. On two Saturdays (Oct. 2 and 9), the artist will teach a workshop in mixed-media for a modest $10 fee. These sessions both start at 6:30pm.

Counter-Representations runs through Oct. 30 at MACLA, 510 S. First St., San Jose. The gallery is open Wednesday­Thursday, noon­7pm and Friday­Saturday, noon­5pm. (408.998.2808)

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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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