Sunday, October 3, 2021

Santeros Modernos

Santeros are artists who paint and or carve images of saints. It is one of the oldest traditions of religious devotion practiced by Hispanics from Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and naturally, the United States.

At Spanish Market and Folk-Art Market and many of the shops in Santa Fe you can find their works, some of which have lately included social commentary as they deal not only with religion but the ideas positive and negative that are part of their/our daily lives.

As we like several of the artists that one Santa Fe gallery represents, we visit from time to time and have even made a couple of purchases there. Whether planned or not, the gallery’s name, Evoke Contemporary, could also be the title of their current exhibition which they call, “Tres Modernos Ride Again”. The three artists are Nicholas Herrera, Patrick McGrath Muniz and Thomas Vigil.

Nicholas Herrera (1964-), considered a founding father of the Santos Modernos, lives in in a small town in rural New Mexico. At the age of 26 he sold a piece showing Christ sitting in the back of a police car to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and since then his work has been shown in many museums. You really don’t need to know much about him in order to appreciate the message of his life experience. What stronger imagery can you have than one in Evoke’s exhibition, a large carved figure of a farmer on his tractor/death cart with his saw on one side and a cloaked skeleton holding a cross and a gun. Unfortunately, these days the latter two symbols often go together. It is just the opposite of the biblical reference “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” –Isaiah 2.1-2

The second artist in this show, Patrick McGrath Muniz (1975-) was born and brought up in Puerto Rico but currently lives in Houston, Texas. He explains his work in his artist’s statement, “Through satirical narratives and anachronisms present in my art I'm able to explore, understand and question the Imperialist agenda with its colonial roots. and the ruling Corpocracy with its Neo-colonial ramifications and environmental consequences in our time.” Not many artists can express themselves in words as well as in their art. We have long admired his work and over the years we have acquired three of his paintings. In this show there are many pieces I could be tempted by. The largest is titled “Revelation” painted this year. He explains that he has gathered myths, memories and groups of images from the last 22 years of his life. Many of these themes have been repeated in earlier paintings which always include religious and contemporary symbols I will come back to this in my next missive.

The final artist in this trio, Thomas Vigil (pronounced Vihil) (1980-) lives in Espanola, New Mexico, a town known for its problems of drugs and alcohol. His religious images are painted over discarded street signs. He says of himself, “Graffiti changed the definition of ART for me. I developed an addiction for art in public spaces at a young age. I indulged in my fair share of unlawful expression. It was in the streets that I received an education that I would have never found at any conventional art school…. My artwork has always been a constant pursuit to find a harmony between my cultural, religious beliefs and my love for controversial, low brow art forms.” Here are two images one of a Madonna and child titled “Never Ending Struggle for Peace and Quiet” the other with Christ in agony and the same word “WARNING” in the background. Is there any more to say?

In our current turbulent times, it is somehow reassuring to know that we are not alone in our anguish. The exhibition is open until November 30 and do see it if you happen to be in Santa Fe.

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