In the Belly of the Beast
Born in El Paso, Armendariz is known for his carved paintings and text-based imagery. The artworks begin as moody depictions in oil on panel of desert sunsets or night skies: subjects much beloved by Romantic painters such as J.M.W. Turner, but Armendariz landscapes contain power dynamics, Native American stories intertwined with Greek mythologies, and a thread of tragedy runs throughout. The text is inscribed in the discourse of the U.S./Mexico border using a dialogue combining both Spanish and English grounding Armendariz in his roots.
Into this lush backdrop, Armendariz cuts intricate images of birds, animals, totems of life in the Southwest and emblems of motion and conflict. Phrases of his own invention or culled from song lyrics are added; in some pieces, words dominate the work. In one of Armendariz’s recent paintings Haiku paño the text reads “no necesita un weatherman sabes que which way the wind blows” dances among tokens of good and bad luck repeating Bob Dylan’s famous line in code-switching brilliance. In another, a sailing ship voyages onward proclaiming No tengo suerte for Love (I don’t have luck for Love). Bisons–images of Indigenous America–abound, garlanded by flowers, butting heads, and pecked by birds. A raven, bird of omens, fills one painting rendered in fine cuts that recall papel picado,cut-paper folk art. From its beak, a banner spills, emblazoned with a single word: sucio. Used to admonish a child, sucio means dirty, filthy–or sinful.
Armendariz developed his tiered technique early in his career. His appropriation of sunsets–a trope of landscape painting–has symbolic power for the artist. “Landscape is synonymous with our culture,” says Armendariz, speaking of the Tejano identification with the staggering expanse of land and sky that is Texas.
Like the marks of civilization in the wilderness, the incision of words, images or both, “scars, tattoos–literally defaces the painting,” Armendariz says. “The painting surface is usually sacrosanct–something you don’t want to mess with. There is risk involved–when you carve, you cannot repair the cut. If there is a misstep, a misspelling, you cannot reverse it.”
In the Belly of the Beast will be on view through December 6, 2014.