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A merger of mysticism and religion

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

For artist Patrick McGrath Muñiz, it’s the calm after the storms.

Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s “Cruz y Ficcion” was inspired by the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. (Courtesy of Evoke Contemporary)

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, destroying his mother’s house in the wake of her recovery from a life-threatening car accident. Also swept away was the studio where Muñiz stored most of his early work.

Maria’s wrath came less than a month after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, the adopted hometown of the painter and his wife, Blanca.

“After experiencing Hurricane Harvey in Houston, where I now reside, witnessing the aftermath of Maria in Puerto Rico and Irma in Florida, where most of my family and friends live, the issue of climate change became personal,” Muñiz wrote in an artist’s statement.

Is it coincidence that Muñiz named his son, who was born in June 2018, after the patron saint of the environment? (In fact, Francis was named after the artist’s grandfather.) Maybe it’s an example of the phenomenon that psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity.”

That would seem to be the case when you realize Francis & Co., Muñiz’s show at Santa Fe’s Evoke Contemporary gallery, is premiering in the city whose patron saint is St. Francis of Assisi.

The offspring of a Puerto Rican mother and an Irish father whom he did not meet until 2004, Muñiz was born in New York in 1975. He earned a bachelor’s of fine arts in painting from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in San Juan and a masters of fine arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“United Citizen Ship” is artist Patrick McGrath Muniz’s twist on “The Ship of Patience,” an 17th-century engraving by Gerhard Altzenbach. (Courtesy of Evoke Contemporary)

Muñiz cites the Spanish painters Diego Velasquez, Francisco Goya, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Jusepe de Ribera, as well as Puerto Rican colonial painter José Campeche, as his favorite artists. And in yet another coincidence (or case of synchronicity), among Muñiz’s many honors is the 2008 Francisco de Goya Award from the Sala Barna Global Present Art in Barcelona.

The mystical and the religious merge in Muniz’s iconoclastic works, which identify colonialism and consumerism as the causes of social unrest and the rapid approach of an environmental doomsday. Sprinkled throughout his oil paintings and retablos of Jesus, Mary and the saints are icons of American capitalism and images of tarot cards.

Typical of Muñiz’s work is his rendering of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In “Divine Provider,” the Virgin appears as the Aztec goddess Coatlicue and is surrounded by seven gold coins referencing the Seven of Pentacles in the tarot.

Muñiz’s sardonic wit and appreciation for wordplay is evident in his 6-foot-by-6-foot painting, “United Citizen Ship,” an allusion to the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate donations to political campaigns. According to an artist’s statement, the painting is inspired by “The Ship of Patience,” a 17th-century engraving by Gerhard Altzenbach, copies of which were widely distributed throughout Spanish colonies in the Americas.

Both Altzenbach’s original engraving and Muñiz’s painting show Christ on a cross that serves as the mast of the ship. But the resemblance ends there. In “The Ship of Patience,” which is also known as “The Ship of Christianity,” the Virgin Mary and the saints serve as the crew. In “United Citizen Ship,” most of the religious figures are replaced by a cast of characters drawn from American history, Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

Rich Uncle Pennybags from the game Monopoly appears in a cloud blowing the wind, “according to the rules of a capitalist game that always benefits the rich,” said Muñiz. Among those rowing the boat are a Spanish conquistador and a Walmart worker. Familiar passengers include Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald and Sponge Bob Square Pants, to name just a few.

In “United Citizen Ship,” President Donald Trump is shown controlling a satellite dish, but he also makes an appearance in “Cruz y Ficcion,” the title a play on the word “Crucifixion.” In this work of protest over the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Trump can be seen throwing rolls of paper towels to survivors, as he did in real life.

In “Cruz y Ficcion,” Christ is nailed to a crumbling electrical line post that has been partly blown away. Instead of “INRI,” Christ’s cross has a sign that originally said “FREE MAN,” which has been altered to read “FEMA,” mocking the U.S. emergency aid agency. “As the electric grid still lies in shambles to this day, diesel cans and power generators become the rule of the day,” Muñiz observed.

After the hard-hitting political commentary of such tableau pieces, a visitor to the Evoke Contemporary show is ready for the solace of Muñiz’s tender paintings of his mother, wife and son. In a world upended by environmental catastrophes and the ruthless pursuit of wealth, the artist can still find sustenance from a loving family.