by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

It has been some time since I have seen a large body of Luis Gutierrez’ works in the South Bay, so it was a rewarding experience to see a lot of work by this skilled veteran painter presented together. As versatile and varied as Luis Gutierrez is in his multimedia collages, assemblages and paintings, the work is easily identifiable for a consistency in brushstroke, the choice of materials and a kind of frontal, “in your face” presentation of imagery.  I see three directions represented in Gutierrez’ current show at Axis Gallery in San Jose.

A recent assemblage by Luis Gutierrez features an artist’s box of rubbing stumps mounted on a “found” wooden surface.

Gutierrez goes back to his earliest work as an abstract expressionist in his PTSD series of painted portraits of Viet Nam vets with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  These vets are presented in profile with just a few deft juicy strokes from a loaded brush, mostly in dark colors.  Scars, distortions, defiled flesh, and an implied derangement are seen through the paint strokes. It would be fair to say not a pretty picture, yet graphically clear!

Other work within the collage/montage approach draws a lot on a Pop sensibility that celebrates graphics, posters, targets, flags, and anatomical or educational charts. If Andy Warhol or Robert Indiana’s appropriation of commercially printed and mass-produced objects of popular culture tended toward the straightforward, raw and even tedious aspects of this genre, Gutierrez does this sometimes, as well, but also searches out the elegant and works more toward a representation of and juxtapositions of the beautiful.  And if Pop Art tended to imitate some of the bland, flatness of commercial graphics, develops a sensual three-dimensionality.

His relief assemblages of carefully selected wooden forms and fragments of antique objects, meshes and woven materials, equally detailed and painted in primary colors, can be as complex as a medical chart. Overall these works are bold and rich.  Some are a riot of pattern, detail and texture. Rather than talk about the migration of popular aesthetics, everyday detritus and commercial material into the galleries of high art, Gutierrez provokes a nostalgia in these images.  It is nostalgia for the original context of these images: perhaps the old post office, billiard parlor or doctor’s office or funny papers.  There may even be a longing  for the days when patriotism was a given.  The bits of discolored wood, recall assemblage in the controlled flavor of Joseph Cornell’s boxes or George Herms’ creations, with their weathering, slightly faded bits of paint color and the stylistic shifts in design.

Mixed media, collage and paint by Luis Gutierrez

My favorite works occur within what seems to be a meeting of the painterly and the collage or assemblage.  Often there is a major interplay of painted and unpainted wood, scarred and weathered surfaces versus pristine wood as a feature of these assemblages.  This body of work begins to go more minimal.  It really sings when Gutierrez allows a wee mark of his own hand to appear on the margin, nonchalantly, in the form a dated label, a scratch, a stamp or a drip of his luscious black paint.  Sometimes he reaches back into art history for an image or object, or into his personal history. An artist’s well-worn rubbing stumps or charcoal or pastel in a small wooden box can be presented quite symmetrically on a larger field of wood.  The portrait reappears, one familiar female face from art history, in color-profile, played off of one full-face black and white photograph of a male, each altered (or perhaps defaced) with paint strokes, markings. Still it is a simple pairing against a richly painted dark field.  Most of these works seem to have a clear focus and centered point of interest, as opposed to the overall patterns of the aforementioned works.  They are enriched by the subtle, yet carefully situated contrasts of surface, and well chosen details.

Luis Gutierrez’ Twins, at axis Gallery

One of the little details, that seems to be chosen to say “These are discarded items and we do not value them anymore,” are staples.  Gutierrez liberally staples the many of the items he juxtaposes.  In Twins, he creates a relief surface with letter charts, spray paint, a double portrait of the same dated male figure with mustache and bare chest, and a band of yellow gold paper all stapled together.

Luis Gutierrez’ American Eagle

Gurierrez’ American Eagle is one of my favorites.  A stencil of an eagle with wings spread wide is stained and bears the remains of white paint.  It is mounted to a wooden surface sporting partially hidden materials, marks, scars and a field of rudely applied black paint.  It is all held together with bronze screws and a variety of large and small, black and metal washers.  As in many of his other works, Luis Gutierrez’ signature is a particular mark that becomes part of the image.

Luis Gutierrez studied art at San Jose State and San Miguel’s Instituto Allende, where he received his Master Degree.  He taught art at San Jose City College for many years before his retirement.

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