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The Arts
March 29-April 4, 2006

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Living Eye

Color Riot: John Hernández's acrylic on wood sculpture 'Living Eye' pops off its base at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Hot Hues

Vivid colors and forceful figures dominate '¡Arte Caliente!' show at San Jose Museum of Art

By Michael S. Gant

THE FIRST impression of '¡Arte Caliente!' the new show of Chicano works at the San Jose Museum of Art, is a burst of color, like a bright sun over the desert. The paintings, photos and sculptures in this eclectic gathering of modern art by (mostly) Texas artists from the collection of Joe A. Diaz of San Antonio traffic in bold statements.

Ana Laura de la Garza's large twin portraits La Pareja: El Patrón and Venus are studies in black contrasted with blood-red—the man sports a rose in his pocket; the woman's hair is a mound of roses. César Martínez's La Fulana/The Other Woman poses a copper-skinned woman with a red necklace, centered horizontally against a flat field of fecund green.

Working in a underground-comic style that recalls the grotesqueries of Mad magazine artist Basil Wolverton, Alex Rubio creates Texas types like Street Preacher and El Rob in neon-nightmare hues, with veins, gums and eyeballs writhing against radiating waves of color that look like apocalyptic haloes. John Hernández's mixed-media sculptures are composed of wooden pieces cut in complicated looping contours, painted in shimmering acrylics and assembled into multilayered cartoon monsters like Solanisquid (named after Valerie Solanis, who took a shot at Andy Warhol).

Most of the art is strongly anchored in the Mexican-American milieu of the Southwest, and in the mode of most Chicano art carries a political and social charge. Alfred J. Quiroz's No Soy Chicano, Soy Aztláno compic shows the artist holding small Mexican and American flags. He is surrounded by comic vignettes (a man with droplets cascading off his back—a literal "wetback"; the Alamo; a tortilla) that make it hard for him to proclaim his own identity free of stereotypes coming from both north and south. In Luis Jiménez's magnificent large lithograph El Buen Patsor (The Good Shepherd), the bravura play of greens and reds belies the tragic subject matter: the shepherd in question, Esequiel Hernández, was shot by police who thought he was a drug smuggler. Albert Ramírez puts familiar tropes to good use in his imaginary covers for an action comic book about a superhero La Virgen de Guadalupe (including ads for a Mexican Charles Atlas called "An Aztlan Body en 7 Días," in which a skinny wretch bulks up after a conquistador kicks sand in his face). On the other hand, do we really need yet another riff on Frida Kahlo—twice removed, no less—in Richard Duardo serigraph series depicting Salma Hayek as the famous painter?

In the midst of so much visual impact, it turns out that some of the more somber pieces are the most effective. Vincent Valdez's Remembering lingers for a while over an old accordion player, sitting in a backyard at dusk with his empty beers and full ashtray in front of him, playing some kind of lament. Benito Huerta, the rare abstract painter in the show, contributes a wonderful study called Blue Rumblings. The bottom half of this two-part piece is full of snaking black borders coursing through a muted background, like schematics for some organic circuit board. In the top half, individual toothpicks are glued to the canvas and daubed with pigment. They look like force-field lines in a magnetic diagram. There is no overt message, but the painting feels alive with a subatomic energy.

¡Arte Caliente! Selections From the Joe A. Diaz Collection shows through June 11 at the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. First St., San Jose. Admission is free. (408.271.6840)

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