ALBERTO CERRITOS: THE CARNIVAL TRADITIOn
Rarely are the attachment to tradition and the quest for independence found in harmony and balance. This synthesis is, nevertheless visible in the work of Alberto Cerritos. His signature is a a pictograph: half-flower, half-serpent. But then it can be a bird-flower, perhaps an allusion to the sacred and mythical bird of Central America, the quetzal. If the indebtedness to the Mayan motifs becomes more subtle in paintings, produced since his arrival in Canada in 1989, the monumentality of his work and his carnivalesque sense of colours are deeply rooted in the tradition and dignity of the artists of Meso-America.
Born and educated in El Salvador, Alberto Cerritos received his training, in painting and sculpture, at the National School of Fine Arts and the Sculpture Academy in San Salvador. Indeed, it is there in El Salvador where some of his early sculptures, those commissioned between 1970 and 1980, are to be found. His granite and volcanic rock monuments standing several meters tall celebrate nature, family and motherhood while other sculptures left in El Salvador illustrate sea allegories. Cerritos has also taught sculpture and drawing, both in El Salvador and Mexico, between 1975 and 1988. Several solo exhibitions between 1973 and the present, in San Salvador, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago and in Mexico, pay tribute to the vigour of his talent, his productivity and his capacity for renewal. Furthermore, Cerritos' life commitment to art, the continued research into the relationship between the artist, nature and humanity, has prompted his participation in group projects and in international exchanges in Canada, Africa, California, Mexico and Guatemala. Life is art for Alberto Cerritos and thus art becomes witness to life. Joy and vitality dominate this particular fusion. So too, the Latin American tradition of carnival prevails in this exhibition.
Alberto Cerritos' view of art and of the role of the artist relies more on instinct, feeling and profound sense of historicity than on cerebral speculations and abstract research of formal pictorial concepts. Still, at this point in his career Cerritos normally develops his large paintings in three stages. First is the inspiration or conception stage. Next is the exploration of the inspiration through a multitude of small drawings and small paint sketches. The final stage is the application of paint to the large canvas. The resulting work is an explosion of figures, volumes, and colour. What is so characteristic of these large canvases is the delicate modernist segmentation and reconstruction of forms, volumes and colours. The complexity of this balance is most clearly seen in a comparison between the images in his drawing book, and small painting sketches and those of this large wall canvases.
His smaller drawings and sketch paintings detail the analysis of lines, shapes and their juxtaposition with colours. Here also the resources of painting: transparency, chiaroscuro, depth and texture are explored. The larger mural-like canvases exhibit the full rigour of Alberto Cerritos' technique. Some of these canvases are painted as frescoes and imprimatura. Using wet plaster he superposes oil and acrylic. The resulting surface is a translucent impasto.
It would be difficult not to recognize in works like TOTEM and FABLE echoes of painters and movements both old and new. His knowledge and respect of the past, however, bring intelligence and independence to his inspiration. There are obvious affinities with Renaissance painters as different as Masaccio and Botticelli: one well-known for the massive plasticity of the figures and of architecture in cast shadows, the other for the visionary, lyricism, both joyful and languid, of figures and landscapes. Certainly Alberto Cerritos has been influenced by the muralists of Central America, but, unlike Diego Rivera, Orozco or Siqueiros, his statement is neither nationalistic nor social. His murals celebrate the ocean, the city (Vancouver), the jaguar. Toltec, Olmec, Mayan motifs are visible in almost surreal explosion. In CYBERSPACE and JAGUAR 1 the serpent, carrier of knowledge and fecundity, rubs shoulders metaphorically with musical instruments, birds, masks, human figures; or characters from the Commedia dell'Arte. Movement and harmony are produced in bursts of joy, rhythm and humour.
The more you look at his canvases, the more you discover. Works like LEFT WINDOW also bring to mind the expressionism of Jackson Pollock, of Alfred Pallan but Alberto Cerritos' affiliation with automatism or even surrealism does not stem from a willful rejection of the norms of composition and logic but from an imagination sent free in search of self as the product of a very complex past and an ever changing present.
The works completed since Cerritos arrived in British Columbia reflect an acute sense of light. In some of this work there is a decreased brilliance in colours that gives more depth to the shadows. HASTINGS NEON is haunting, fascinating, and ambiguous. The shadows are filled with eyes both threatening and promising. Equally ambiguous is TOTEM. Could the red and white top figure be a reference to the Canadian flag cradling the band-aid solution of moribund identities? On the other hand, FABLE, an impasto of blue and violet and other materials, although nocturnal in its vision, is more a fairytale. It is as if reality were continually whisked away by cyclones or by war. Life is changed by magic, by wizardry, or by the social reconstruction of reality. ARLEQUIN, with its dancing and flying colours, uncovers hidden figures within the imagination.
Other paintings are more serene. Titles are no always of paramount importance in Alberto Cerritos' art. In other words referentiality is loose, thus leaving the observer more free to interpret and participate. At times, however, inscriptions punctuate the canvases as if to expose the various dimensions of Canadian ethnic reality. THE POET incorporates a poem from Farsistan. The need to permanence is more marked by the specific inscription of the poem. The central figures; the muse, the inspiration, together with the poet, are a joyous hymn of love, of creativity and of freedom. Writing acquires visual resonance. The emblematic effect of words within the picture can either support or contest, as in a rebus, the feasibility of the reading. ESTELA PACKAGE 1 is such a reminder: diversity and some confusion are part of the famous Canadian mosaic. Even thous the existential preoccupations implicit in the paintings are often serious, their representation is carnivalesque. SAINT SUPERMAN is an eloquent parody of contemporary consumer culture. Superman, with a saintly halo, holds a crystal-ball globe in his hand. The comic-strip analogy of modern society shows other illustrious characters: Scrooge McDuck, Mickey Mouse, Mafalda the gossiper. A large female body occupies diagonally the center of the canvas. Her erotic value is suggested by the colours and the fact that her naked breasts become part of Mickey Mouse's head and Mafalda's eye. Layer by layer stories and characters are superposed, a true feast for the imagination.
The work of Alberto Cerritos stands to remind the Canadian public that much life the famous Latin-American writers, the artists also impose with flare and assurance the vitality of their vision. Neither colonization nor the vagaries of changing political climates seems to have tarnished their creativity. It seems that in overcoming these outside influences, they have actually heightened their independence and creativity.
This exhibition was made possible thanks to the insight and artistic judgement of Dr. Edward Gibson, Director of the Gallery and, the foresight and support of Janet Menzies, Registrar of the Collection, as well as the assistance of the student staff.
Dr. Grazia Merler
Chair, Exhibitions Committee
Simon Fraser Gallery, July 1995.
To read more critiques of my work (in Spanish) please go to: http://cerritos.cyberbro.com/RutaCritica/IndiceR.html
ALBERTO CERRITOS: COMPLEX ART, ELECTRONIC ART AND SPECULATIVE EXPRESSIONISM
Alberto Cerritos is a universal artist born in El Salvador and a citizen of Canada residing in Vancouver, B.C., whose multidisciplinary creativity comprehends a very extensive production of paintings, sculptures, digital works and murals. He is a theorist, poet and writer, and the author of the Theory of Complex Art. A theory in which he talks about the new path, as well as the labyrinths and dynamics in the world of art today. Alberto defines that Passion, is the way of today's mind which transforms the coldness of technology into a vibrational fever. He analyzes the responsibilities of visual arts in the technological era, where traditional values are put into question, not to be diminished, but instead to be enriched. Consequently this Era combines Analytical Synthesis with the free expression of visual fusions of diverse origin.
Generally speaking, his artwork possesses a speculative expressionism because he searches for symbiosis between technological elements and cybernetic contributions using primitive iconic language from ancient native cultures. We could say that it is from here that he gets a remarkable universal character, supporting with force the emblematic painting of signs nurtured by contrasting colours, combined with an intense digital series, full of metaphors and references like the Narciso, CyberCorazón or Venus series in his very extensive digital production composed of more than forty different series or on his painted canvasses.
He is a contemporary artist who does not renounce the past by going into the trails of the primitive just to put into evidence the contradictions of the visual arts of today. We are living a very authentic fusion of concepts, but at the same time we verify the escape from historic reality, creating a labyrinth where we repeat concepts that in the historic avant guard we faced with notable depth. It is from there that Alberto Cerritos prefers to go for subjects of social nature, conveying to his cosmic vision a wordly intent as well as the preponderance of color, a visceral and passionate understanding that is formed by millions of instants and intentions. There is love, warmth, delicacy and concentrated sensibility in spite of his metaphoric and technological expressionism that is combined with sparks of enlightened humanism. There is an intense pleading of contrasting forms,inside one another, looking to express inside the incredible variety of labyrinths which conform visual existence.
He understands that there is not one way but rather several ways crossing each other, searching and liking each other in the vibrational pathway of intentions. He does not pretend to find a middle term, a half way: the force of determination of the exact equation. Instead he likes to expand his art, through contrasting forms, looking for sublime and intense visual moments in order to reach climax more than once. Here is the most visceral vein in front of the most analytical edge, all after testing the most expressive of possibilities of Cyber Art and painting. His sculpture and murals going through visuality, just to find the human pulse; the one which says that perfection is in utopia and not the reason of the intellectual mind. We are unknown to ourselves. We are living escaping ahead, when the reality of our hearts, is the one that guides us in combination with the spiritual one. Without ideals and energy there is no earth and purpose. Without machinery, the dialectics of bit, the sound of installations and the strength of the new painting of electric expressionism, the soul of the artist could not exist. And all of this is known by the Canadian artist.
Joan Luis Montane
International Association of Art Critics
Madrid, Spain. March 2005
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