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A Decorative Cosmology Bridging Heaven and Earth

By Hrag Vartanian

February 8, 2017


A Decorative Cosmology Bridging Heaven and Earth

In her new exhibition, Tamara Gonzales continues to mine our material culture to chart the world all around.

At the heart of Tamara Gonzales‘s new body of work at Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery is a room of tapestries woven by artisans in the Peruvian towns of Písac and Ayacucho. They are vibrant interpretations of the artist’s drawings and they add yet another layer to the decorative language she continues to mine from the material world around her.

Gonzales is known for incorporating visual culture that has traditionally been more associated with lived culture — lace, graffiti, embroidery, textiles — rather than the world of art galleries. A large functional maraca is propped up by the entrance, which signals the inclusive and non-hierarchal attitude towards influence she celebrates in her work.

Past the over-sized maraca, there is a corridor of small drawings dominated by a curvilinear window motif that offers her a compositional frame to puncture, cover, and react to. But even with this structure, the drawings have an experimental energy that pokes and pushes, often jostling forms that resemble easter eggs, stick figures, plants, or the scribblings of a rudimentary language.

Her true subject matter is the material world. She has an indiscriminate appetite for cross-cultural pollination and distills the dissonance of contemporary life into these objects that can seem as jarring as they are soothing.

The title of the exhibition, Ometeotl, refers to a nebulous concept of spirituality that some scholars of Mesoamerican culture dispute, but it is commonly believed to refer to the “creator of all creation” for the Anawak people and a compound of “dual” and “cosmic energy” in the native language of Nahuatl. That ambiguity of the term perfectly reflects the primordial soup that has spawned these works, at once mythic, while relishing their connection to earthly forms.

Looking at her paintings, you can feel unmoored from the boundaries of form as they swim in waves of moody azure, crimson, and the muddy waters of darker hues. The paintings vibrate and ripple in your mind’s eye as they play with proportion — always challenging the relationship of ground and subject — to settle visually like a shaken snow globe. Many of the large paintings, like “Two Moons” (2016), feel contradictory, contrasting the washes of violet paint against the frenzy of patterns that form the sky and ground for a setting Mesoamerican roundel.

The showstoppers, though, are the tapestries. Gonzales’s starry fields and human-like forms are translated into undulating visions of horror vacui. They are her best works yet, offering us a unique synthesis of the world around her but allowing it to develop into these intensely colored objects (she says the women doing the embroidery were given free reign to translate her drawings, based on patterns they normally embroider). The works, which are all untitled and made of alpaca and wool, convey a sense of cosmic cartography. If anything, the embroideries make the paintings seem more conventional, showing how her many bodies of work may overlap but travel in different directions.

The paintings are declarations of the known, the drawings are suggestions of what can be known, while the woven works are proposals for what we may never ever truly know.