Mariano Chavez's exhibit at Linda Warran Gallery is at once bracing and classical, which is something of an achievement considering a well-known porn star features prominently. Chavez's May Flowers, on display until the 20th of June, features large oil paintings, silk screens and his popular posters created for rock shows.
The initial painting of the show is First Date (2008, shown above) which depicts two groups of nederthals meeting, remeniscent of Stanley Kubrick's 2001. The painting also sets up a surprisingly linear narrative of art and civilization, beginning at the dawn of human history. The early humans appear to be warring, one group carries flowers while the other threatens them with malevolently glowing blue orbs. Aside from recalling 2001 this scene also recalls images from the sixities with hippies putting daisies in soldiers rifles, suggesting the binary of peacefulness and aggression is not a cultural condition (as suggested by some in the sixities) but rather a biological one.
The Silver Line (2008, pictured above) is a very large oil painting featuring a porn star (identified as Wendy Whoppers by the gallery information) with very large breasts. Appropriating pornographic images has been used by different artists for different purposes, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Richard Prince. What initially seems a very sexist, even misogynistic depiction of this woman gains nuance when seen in terms of the other paintings displayed. In the context of the aforementioned First Date, and especially African Mask Night /The Lesson (2008, seen below) in which a squatting woman wearing a mask (a quote from Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon) presents the encircled boys with two fertility figures unmistakably resembling the neolithic statue Venus of Willendorf, Chavez's The Silver Line takes on new meaning. In this context Wendy Whoppers is recast as an ancient fertility figure, flowery shapes surround her vagina and a milk-like substance pours from her breasts. In this way Chavez raises the question of whether the current fascination with large breasts is a continuation of a very ancient impulse towards desiring a fecund female. In Chavez's work the profane porn star gains a shade of the sacred.
Chavez's exhibit at Linda Warran is a bit gritty at first but is also filled with art historical allusions. The work is executed with more than a hint of Chicago Imagist influence, whether it's the frank sexuality or the drawing style of of the flower paintings it's hard to tell, but the Imagist influence feels like it is there. Which is perhaps no surprise considering the artist received both a bachelor of fine arts degree and a master of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ultimately Mariano Chavez's work is provocative but with a purpose and feels very much like "Chicago Art" for those of us still searching for the lingering influence of the Imagists.
(Images from top to bottom: First Date, The Silver Line, African Mask Night/The Lesson, all 2008, provided courtesy of Linda Warren Gallery and the artist)