Rutland’s Alley Gallery is presenting Brooklyn artist Chris Mendoza. The exhibit, “Exactitude,” is a glimpse of the artist finding, developing and evolving his art sensibility. The diversity of Mendoza’s work makes “Exactitude” a big experience for viewers.
A large pointy work greets all who enter the gallery. A big splat of color, it’s a collage full of action. Soak it up and begin to ponder the remarkable work of an American immigrant whose life led him to this small space in Vermont as well as to galleries and countries far and wide.
Mendoza is a New York City-based artist from Nicaragua whose work draws from early experiences with nature, architecture, art history, books, and influences of New York City, Miami, Tokyo and his travels. Mendoza’s style bridges the modern, primitive and organic. He draws strongly on the nature and folklore of his Latin American heritage while interpreting the density and chaos of daily urban life.
In the 1980s, his family moved to The Bronx, where Mendoza began to develop a style incoporating architectural draftsmanship. He learned from his father with the new inspirations of museums, libraries, galleries, letters, faces and forms that then covered the subways of the city. At a young age, he learned drafting and about architecture from his father. He studies ancient civilizations, hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, calligraphies and alphabets as well from past and modern cultures in the Americas.
Looking at Mendoza’s art, from early to present, one gets the odd impression that he might be a conduit for information from other places and beings. The only way to elaborate on this strange idea is to be specific. In his early works, Mendoza presents works on paper and canvas that feature swirling backgrounds of paint, sprayed and brushed, which serve to illuminate his intimate mark-making.
There are small figures, there are insects, there are words, but they are not narrative. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mendoza is not yet telling a story you can hear. But where is he getting these small stylized images? “I am moved by the full moon,” he says. To me, the early works look like the artist is inventing and perfecting the vocabulary and grammar of his art — and listening to its rhythm.
The lines of swoopy backhanded street art alphabet appear alongside a stylized insect. The composition of these early works looks random; but there is nothing tentative about Mendoza’s marks. We might not know what the artist is depicting, but he knows and is confident.
Mastery of the medium is on display in the “black-and-white room.” Here you will find Mendoza’s wildly imaginative ink drawings. These works are dazzling in their complexity and balance. Because they are black and white, they seem quiet, but the density of the layers of lines keeps the drawings active.
Looking at them, I thought about blueprints — blueprints from another galaxy. Mendoza buries his treasures in these pieces. Look at them through blurred focus and see images emerge: an insect, a fish, a figure and eyes looking out of the picture at the viewer.
In all of Mendoza’s work, including two paintings he is finishing during his stay at the Alley Gallery, patterning and mark-making are significant. Some patterns, made with repetitive, intentional marks give the pieces the mystery of an ancient alphabet — or alternatively, a brand-new contemporary one. It depends on the eyes looking at the piece. In some cases, the repeated forms or lines become pattern and create fabric for Mendoza to transform into a figure.
The paintings especially feature mark-making that is more gestural — quick, unplanned surprises appear and are then absorbed by other thoughts and other gestures. Mendoza is adding layers again, giving the painted works the density of an archeology dig.
Mendoza has a big toolbox full of materials and talents. And then there are the frequencies he listens to that bring him information from the Earth, her animals, the sea, the moon, the galaxy. He is receptive to the messages of the world — from music, from history, from Earth and the universe. The messages inform the work we see now on the walls of the Alley Gallery.