LAUNCH LA is proud to present, Contemporary Nostalgia, a new exhibition featuring Danny Galieote and Antonio Pelayo. This exhibition features two artists with distinct stylistic and personal backgrounds. Viewed side by side however, Pelayo and Galieote’s works are a tribute to the allure of the past, whether it be familial or historical.
Galieote’s sense of nostalgia is primarily cultural – fuelled by the desire to recapture some of the artistry, spirit and aesthetics of bygone epochs. Drawing on everything from American Regionalism, 1950s pop-culture and the works of Italian Renaissance painters, he distils the artistic themes and styles of these periods into essences, to be mixed and experimented with at will. The result however is far from slavish imitation, but rather a point of departure into new artistic territory. Prominent Regionalists like Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry tried to capture the lives of the everyday American men and women, even if at times they had to document gritty scenes and difficult moments. In a sense, Galieote continues their legacy by doing the same for his generation – approaching the subject in a stylized, poetic and yet intrinsically faithful manner.
Gleamed through careful study and lifelong fascination, the techniques, principles and theories of Renaissance masters like Jacopo Pontormo and Michelangelo, instil in Galieote’s distinctly American scenes an atmosphere of gravity and drama. Fusing these two distinct ‘Golden Eras’, Galieote essentially creates an invented ‘Old World’ – an amalgamation of two historical periods, centuries apart, to be tapped for inspiration and artistic guidance. The result of this process are works like ‘Double Feature’; at the painting’s centrepiece an overflowing popcorn box with retro designs, executed with all the precision of a Caravaggio still-life, flanked on either side by portraits of the Lone Ranger and the Swamp Thing. Though the subject matter and style are both supremely nostalgic, the arrangement and overarching feel of the piece is unmistakably contemporary.
Pelayo’s portraits, though visually worlds apart from Galieote’s Pop Renaissance paintings are also informed by the past – both technically and thematically. The primary difference however is that Pelayo’s nostalgia is informed specifically by familial ties; personal reflections that chronicle the struggles, triumphs and legacy of his ancestry. This meandering trail of blood provides a rich foundation for his work, bringing with it not just the influence of Mexico’s great painters – Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco among them – but also a direct and deep-seated emotional link to his subjects. Pelayo’s own binary upbringing, in California and rural Mexico, contributes another dimension to his work and exposed him to a further set of influences.
Taking cues from this diverse host of idols and influences, Pelayo crafts wonderfully detailed pencil drawings of family scenes, often culled from treasured private photographs. Rather than present these scenes in their entirety however, for his latest works Pelayo utilizes a compelling technique in which his drawings appear unfinished or faded in parts. In some works this effect is particular jarring, where all that remains of a group shot are two half-faded ghostly figures at the extreme edges of the paper. The only indications that other family members are unaccounted for in the drawing is the sheer mass of negative space between the two men, as well as the disembodied hands resting on their shoulders. Other pieces are more or less complete, often featuring small groups of twos and threes, frozen in the self-conscious stiffness of posing for a family photograph, with only small details missing – such as the right or left eye or some other small void of detail. These voids, it seems, mirror the gaps and inaccuracies inherent in memory and nostalgia – a reminder that even as we look back, we live only in the present.
Perhaps what unifies Galieote’s and Pelayo’s divergent concepts of nostalgia the most is the idea that nostalgia need not be a purely sentimental, conservative or static exercise – but that it is still and has always been a potent fuel in the forging of new styles, artistic revivals and movements. Just as Galieote and Pelayo sought out the past for inspiration, Renaissance masters sought to reconnect with the achievements of classical antiquity and usher in a new era of creativity.
My parents first came to the United States as illegal aliens from Mexico in the 60’s. I was born in Glendale, but raised in a small Mexican village. A childhood broken into two countries has been a major subject matter in my art. It’s as though my paintings are still looking for that one home.
I used old family photos as the subjects of these drawings. I intentionally left out the backgrounds, concentrating solely on the figures. If I did the backgrounds, the drawings would be complete, and closed. The story would be done. This way, with the subject all alone and without a sense of place, the drawings ask, Who am I? Where do I belong?
– Antonio Pelayo, 2010