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Mexican American artist pushes work in new direction

Fausto Fernandez’s “Black Monolith,” using a photo he took of a friend, is intended as a metaphor for rediscovering “the values of all ethnic cultures.” (Courtesy of Fausto Fernandez)

SANTA FE, N.M. — When Fausto Fernandez looked at his new series of paintings, he felt there was something mysterious about them.

The abstract expressionist, who is used to employing bright colors and unconventional materials in his painting/collage hybrids, was now covering large sections of his canvas with solid black. The boldness of the black, he said, gave them that air of mystery.

“And when I started thinking of them as bold, I started thinking of them as powerful,” Fernandez said during a recent interview from his home in Phoenix. The Mexican American artist grew up in Ciudad Juárez before moving to the U.S. after college.

“And then when I started thinking about power, I started thinking about what power means,” he added.

It led him to thinking about the belief in gods and spiritual entities. Tapping into that idea, and his roots in Mexico, many of the works in his new series are named after Aztec deities.

“Huitzilopochtili” is part of a solo show by Fausto Fernandez at the Turner Carroll Gallery. (Courtesy of Fausto Fernandez)

The artworks are split between Fernandez’s signature collages and simple, minimalist color blocks. “Huitzilopochtli,” named after the Aztec’s chief deity, is the main piece in the series, more than six feet tall and five feet wide. The bold, multi-colored abstraction starts at the top and is contrasted with the darkness on the bottom. Another made in the same style, “Texcatlipoca,” is named after the god of darkness because of how its solid section changes from black to gray.

These recent works and several others are on display for a solo show at Turner Carroll Gallery on Canyon Road. “Progression Through Colors,” which opened this weekend, will stay up until June 10.

The new paintings were a challenge for Fernandez. He wanted to step away from the themes and styles of some of his previous work. Compared to how aesthetically “dense” his previous art has been, he said, there was something about the flat-black sections that represented a “stillness and comfort.”

“To me, that felt like my ideas were mixed up together,” he said of his prior pieces. “Just like my personal life experiences became, let’s say, complicated. For me, having the black on the bottom kind of creates sort of comfort visually and it’s also a part of my life.”

In a visual sense, he said, “the black is taking over all of my old ideas.”

He explained that most of his collages and the materials he’s used in the past decade have been based on metaphors. Some of the topics he’s previously commented on in his work had to do with how people play a part in society. By using found architectural drawings for the collages, he said the work was meant to symbolize how people live in houses that were built and designed by other people, sending a larger message about how “we need to be a part of society to help each other.”

And while he was in college, he started using renderings of what he called “mechanical items” – airplanes, pliers, door handles. Those types of objects, he explained, are useful, but don’t have any value unless people apply force to them. He used that as a metaphor for human relationships.

“I found those things really interesting because I found myself in relationships in my life where I thought, ‘wow, how would I do this for this person when I wouldn’t do this for anybody else?’ ” he said. “Love does that.”

Now 43, he said he feels like he’s matured and he doesn’t connect with the same stories.

“It’s not that the paintings got old, I just started growing and developing as a human being,” he added.

Another way he tried to challenge his personal growth in his latest pieces is through new styles and materials. Previously, Fernandez says he cared about precision and cleanliness in his abstractions. It took him a while to become comfortable with throwing paint and leaving drips on his work. In this series, he embraced it and also incorporated spray paint into the collages.

“A lot of these new works (have) to do with movement and action painting,” he explained. “It’s kind of like a way for me to exercise being more free.”

Not all of the works in the solo show are named after the Aztec gods. One of Fernandez’s other noted works, “Black Monolith,” goes in a different artistic direction. In the center of the painting there is a portrait photograph of a black woman covered by thin, transparent black rectangle.

He said the piece was inspired by the minorities and middle-class people in the U.S., and described it as a metaphor for “discovering the values of all ethnic cultures.” He noted that as a viewer gets closer to the painting, the image of the woman becomes more noticeable behind the dark rectangle.

“That’s the discovery,” he explained. “It’s like a beautiful thing to discover behind the work. I didn’t want to make it too obvious.”

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