ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Columbus reigns from his black tricorn hat next to a crowned Burger King mascot.
The Italian explorer wields a quill as he divides up a landscape embedded within a hamburger. St. James, patron saint of the Spanish conquest, rides along the background, offering religious justification.
“One is from history and one is a corporate symbol,” artist Patrick McGrath Muñiz said. “These figures become larger than life and they become symbols of a time of conquest. It’s part legend, part real.”
Muñiz’s “Holy Combo I” (2016) is one of 50 pieces showcased in “GenNext: Future So Bright,” an exhibition of works by 20 artists opening at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art on Friday, May 4. The show is the first of its kind for the museum grounded in traditional Spanish artwork.
The idea for a contemporary exhibition germinated when curator Jana Gottshalk began talking to young artists at Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market.
“I started asking what they did outside of Spanish Market,” she said. “They are all inspired by colonial art and they often work using the same composition as traditional retablos and bultos, but they’re using a lot of social and political commentary in their work.”
Born in New York, Muñiz grew up in Puerto Rico before discovering Spanish colonial art when he was in college in (of all places) Georgia. Grounded in Renaissance, Baroque and Latin American colonial painting, his work addresses colonialism, consumerism and climate change.
For him, the conquest represented by religious iconography and American commercialism spring from the same roots.
“There’s a continuous line between the colonial indoctrination and commercial pop culture propaganda,” said Muñoz, who now lives in Houston. “I don’t see any break in the past.”
Española’s Thomas Vigil recycles battered street signs, then splashes them with classic Spanish colonial art imagery.
Vigil spent his childhood enveloped by the traditional Hispanic artwork of northern New Mexico. He discovered graffiti after visiting his brother in Los Angeles.
The street art offered a dual appeal.
“One thing was the fact that it was illegal,” he said with a laugh. “It was exciting. And I’ve always loved art in public spaces. Street artists risk going to jail just to express themselves.”
Vigil began collecting street signs and license plates he found on eBay and in antique shops. The New Mexico Department of Transportation donated a stack.
“Virgen de los Dolores” (“Our Lady of Pain/Sorrows”) combines a paint-splattered speed sign with a classic image of the Virgin Mary.
“I’ve gone to church since I was a baby,” Vigil said. “It’s all spray paint work; I use spray paint and stencils.”
His political commentary has triggered controversy, especially when he combines it with Day of the Dead imagery. He’s working on a piece using a recycled grape box as a canvas emblazoned with an image of civil rights activist César Chávez.
Albuquerque’s Brandon Maldonado pairs the ex-voto or religious offerings to the saints with images lifted from cartoons, graffiti and video games. In Mexico,worshippers place ex-votos – often small paintings – in a church or chapel to give thanks.
“El Mojadosm” depicts a sun-fried border crosser riding a coyote and lifting a jug of water.
“That’s the story from the Mexican perspective,” the self-taught artist said.
“El Gringo” moves to the opposite side of the border. The image shows a white tourist with a faceted face riding a donkey painted with zebra stripes.
“I call it my Picasso face series,” Maldonado said. “The heads are very Cubist-looking.”
The artist is working on a show slated for Santa Fe’s Pop Gallery during this summer’s Spanish Market.
“I’m calling it ‘Neo-Picasso’,” he said. “I’ve always had a love for Picasso.
“He said if you see an eye in the socket, that’s normal. If you see it in the forehead, you see it anew.
“He also said, ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal.'”