Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Tale of 3 Works of Art

As promised last week I am returning to the painting called “Revelation” by Patrick Muniz McGrath in the exhibition, Los Tres Modernos at Evoke Contemporary in Santa Fe. All the images were supplied by the artist.

The large-scale work, (46x 60) inches, painted this year is an example of what the artist says himself, “the artist gathered personal myths, memories, and dream imagery through the past 22 years of painting them”. The composition is worked around a Madonna inspired by the traditional Spanish Colonial images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Our Lady of Charity. The man working on his sketchbook in the boat on the left of “Revelation” is Patrick at a younger age. He writes that the PR1996 on the side of the boat represents his native Puerto Rico and 1996 is the year he started sketching daily.

Patrick repeats themes but never paints an image exactly as he has the last. We know the figure of the monk centered below the Madonna as it is the subject of a 2018 painting by Patrick that we own. In ours you can see enough of the face to recognize Patrick’s self-portrait. As we know for every artist the closest model is the artist him or herself. In Patrick’s case, however, it is also the fact that he sees himself in various mystical and contemplative situations. Our monk holds a skull rather than the hourglass, but the symbolism remains the same.

I noticed a smaller painting in the show, called “The Guide”, 36 x30 inches, also dated 2021, that repeats in reverse the group on the right of “Revelation”. Death wields a scythe and places his hand on the shoulder of the artist who holds his paint brushes and his 4-year-old son on his lap. In his notes on the work Patrick has pointed out 20 symbolic points that he ruminated about while he was painting, like his son’s pose with finger on his lips indicating silence and holding his stuffed lamb representing his innocence. Patrick lost friends and relatives in recent times and to the left of “The Guide” you see a man carrying a machete, a close friend and Puerto Rican countryman of Patrick’s who died last year. He is shown with his pet dog guiding him in the afterlife as he points to a small white skull indicating his never-ending search for archeological finds.

A preliminary drawing for “The Guide” titled “Meditationes Matutinae” (morning meditations) seems simpler and more sympathetic with a contemplative artist and his son with angel wings, proud to be with his father, but here too is an hourglass which shows the passing of time from son to father to death. As we get older, we see how time passes so quickly. Among the other symbols is a bird on Patrick’s head which actually does have the previous president’s face. It was drawn in October of 2020 when as the artist says, “Not only is it sitting on my head (thoughts) it is leaving a hideous dropping over my head, like Stymphalian bird spoiling everything on its path, including my own mental sanity.” Oh, how I can sympathize with that!

“The Guide” is a classic Memento Mori, from the Latin, “remember you must die” where the artist has made the macabre into an intensely personal statement. I might not have responded to its symbolism a few years ago, but now, at the age of 77, and having a granddaughter of 2 years, I wonder how old she will be when I pass on.

I always tell my readers not to dwell on all the writing about works of art, but look at them first and only then, if you are interested, learn more to deepen your appreciation and understanding of the work. In Patrick’s case he gave me “20 points of light” each, into two of the paintings above but few artists can express their visions in their paintings in words like Patrick McGrath Muniz!

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