Cruz Ortiz is known to work in wheat paste murals, video, street sculptures and guerrilla AM radio broadcasts. His latest solo exhibition is just gouache on paper and panel, but that doesn't make it any less quiet. "I Speak Lightning" at David Shelton Gallery is a loud, blaring show. It is full of bold colors, bright text and, yes, more than a few streaks of lightning.
The Houston-born, San Antonio-based artist made a splash here three years ago with his solo exhibition at CAMH. That show introduced many to Ortiz's (to borrow the term) lo-fi aesthetic. There's a simplicity and crudeness to his paintings, a freestyle, rasquache technique that allows Ortiz to work really fast -- he created the nearly two dozen pieces in the show just this year. I can see that crude flatness being a barrier to appreciating Ortiz's art -- he doesn't seem to try all that hard -- but I found it to be part of his charm.
In fact, one of my favorites in the show was "Darlin." The piece features just the word "Darlin" done in a thin pink font of Ortiz's design -- letters alternate between uppercase and lowercase at whim -- against a teal background. Purple stars line the top and bottom of the panel in a freehand style that, again, can come off as slapdash. But there's something about the combination of the bold colors, simple proclamation and unrefined drawing style that is just winning.
The show alternates between these text-based pieces that speak of sunshine and "amor" and Ortiz's lovesick poets -- cowboy hat-sporting, bandanna-wearing cowboys who are likely the originators of these texts and have literal stars in their eyes.
This part can get a bit confusing, but Ortiz's black-lipped, alter ego Spaztek (that's part-Aztec, part-spaz) also shows up a few times in portraits like the sunburst Menudo Power. As the legend goes, Spaztek is on a cosmic search for love -- complete with a ray gun. He's a prop, it seems, through which Ortiz can freely speak of personal yet universal topics like love and desire.
Though it professes to be about love, "I Speak Lightning" isn't a romantic show; in place of hearts, Ortiz uses stars. But it is an eccentric, giddy celebration of the kind of love that causes fireworks and drives men crazy. Immersed in those graphic paintings, the enthusiasm is contagious.
"Cruz Ortiz: I Speak Lightning" at David Shelton Gallery, 3909 Main, runs now through March 30. For more information, call 832-538-0924 or visit www.davidsheltongallery.com.
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