At first glance the gob-smacking exhibition “Einar and Jamex de la Torre: Animexican” at the Koplin Del Rio Gallery is about surface, surface, surface. Then you look closer and you realize it’s about layer, layer, layer. A still closer examination (you do stick around for those, right?) reveals that it’s about the contiguous transparency of these surfaces and these layers and that’s when things really begin to take off.
Comprised of blown glass shapes, iconographic images, and dollar store booty, the work, some freestanding, some wallhung, reflects through a glass, brightly, the melting pot between the two cultures. In turn this melting pot becomes a crucible from which molten glass can be blown. There are references to cult movies (“El Fly Boy” suggests “The Fly), to anime (“Frijolera Classica.” ), to car culture (“Nazcar Dad,” ”V.W. Series,” “Honk, Honk, Bling, Bling,” and “Tanque You.”). The utterly magisterial triptych “La Reconquista” combines a Rogier Van Der Weyden-esque altarpiece with the collagey feel of the Sergeant Peppers album cover and utilizes some stunning lenticular (convex) 3D imagery so you can place your hand behind an image but in front of the pictorial surface.
To experience the work in all its Technicolor and reflected glory is to embark on literal and metaphorical odyssey. It’s a literal odyssey first because of the various bedazzled configurations of trucks, jalopies, cars, a tank, and the large sprocket of a bicycle, not to mention the inclusion in “M’ezcalera al Cielo” of an actual tire tread (that in turn references huarache sandals, another mode of loco-motion). It’s a literal odyssey second because of the way the eye traces the iconographical hopscotches each piece articulates between Mexican, American, and Hybrid Border cultures.
It’s metaphorical because of the way the work makes you navigate between the Scylla of Then and the Charybdis of Now, partaking along the way in the relentless and culturally seismic synthesis between clashing worlds and the objects and rituals that comprise them. It’s a brave new world the De La Torre brothers map and we’re lucky to have them as our guides. Each piece represents a map overlaid with spirituality, commerce, culture, politics, regional Otherness, and global homogeneity. In their hands, layered conduits of superficiality become ravines of significance.
The show’s transparency works on several levels as well. Stylistically, the work is shiny, reflective, and, because the shapes are empty, fill-up-able. Formally, the anime stylized and colorful pieces make the work legible, easy to read. Sometimes figures or other elements are laden with beans, seeds, or coins. This gives the viewer a sense of dealing with known entities, known qualities. It gives them a sense of omniscience, being able to see, both literally and metaphorically, into the heart of each piece.
These pieces jump out at you. They are the bull as well as the china shop. Each piece, as well as the exhibition as a whole, buzzes with the visual stimulation of a bazaar or a souk, better yet, of a border crossing. Scores of bright shiny gee-gaws, perfect for Magpies of Culture and Purveyors of the Ephemeral. They serve as the scrumptious wedge on the teeter-totter of spiritual commercialism and commercial spirituality.
Contextually the work simmers in a cocido of cross-cultural references. It’s not so much that we gringos (well, this gringo) have to be versed in the iconography of Aztec and Mayan cultures, not to mention the Mexican Catholicism with which the work abounds. The point is that the work’s layered though transparent, surreal and sultry, with references that, though they abut, though they are grinded together as with a mortal and pestle, are not exactly seamless.
Like everything else in the show, the title works on many levels. It suggests the stylized, colorful, sometimes violent, sometimes sexual nature of anime cartoons done with a Mexican template. It suggests the cross-hatching of Mexican culture and politics with Catholicism, television and popular culture. It describes a frenetic cross-pollination of eras, genres, and tropes, all of which make you appreciate that, as precious and clever the surfaces may be, the best thing about the work is that at heart the shapes contain within them the breath of fresh air that each piece possible in the first place.
Gallery hours are 10:00am - 5:30pm, Tuesday - Friday, 11:00am - 5:30, Saturday. The exhibition runs until October 22. The Gallery is located at 6031 Washington Boulevard, Culver City. For more information call (310) 836.9055 or visit www.koplindelrio.com.