A young boxer sneers at the crowd of students and spectators milling about at the Houston Community College Northline Campus art gallery.
His hands are up, one poised to strike, the other covering his heart in a protective stance. On his left, two other boxers are also frozen in permanent poses of bravado.
Just when Art Attack becomes sure that one (or all three) are about to jump out at us, someone snaps a picture, and we snap back into reality, remembering that the threesome encased in Silver-Gelatin print belong to photographer Michael Gonzalez, one of nine artists on display at the Thursday opening of the school's second annual Hispanic Heritage Art Show, put on by the local Mexican American Youth Organization, also known as M.A.Y.O.
The opening of the exhibit was timed perfectly with the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month and is a tribute to the close-knit Hispanic community and culture.
Last night's opening was definitely different from what we are used to. Hors d'oeuvres were replaced by HCC students idling at a tiny food court. Jazz, or classical music, or even a live band was replaced by feisty Mexican music playing on a stereo in the corner. Complimentary drinks were replaced by complimentary maracas that shook incessantly throughout the duration of the opening and drove us a bit insane.
Although Gonzalez was not in attendance, we recognized another Gonzalez, painter/hunk Raul, from our trek to the Caroline Collective earlier this summer. But if his burnt orange paintings back then reminded us of a street siesta, the sculptural works he provided that late afternoon were more like a traffic jam of colors -- in a good way. His three pieces were undoubtedly the centerpiece of the night, with the "Vero Mango" piece, an oversized replica of a bag of Mexican lollipops, sitting smack dab in the middle of the other two. The big bag of candy was inspired by Andy Warhol's cans of soup, Gonzalez said while seductively sucking on the very same lollipop he immortalized with canvas. We tried our best not to swoon.
Next to the larger-than-life candy bag hung "Trabajador (The Worker)," an acrylic, ballpoint pen, marker and paper on canvas picture of a construction worker with a skeleton's face, whom Gonzalez said was simultaneously inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead and his father, a construction worker.
On the other side hung "Self Portrait (Baboon with Headdress)," a graffiti-like painting of Gonzalez looking sideways, his brain exploding with bits and pieces of abstract thoughts, he said.
Gonzalez introduced us to friend and fellow University of Houston alum Eduardo Portillo, a soft-spoken artist responsible for "Viggo the Clown," a huge patchwork quilt-stuffed animal that sat propped in the corner. "Viggo" is one of a series of similarly stuffed animals that Portillo has placed around the city. Directly opposite Viggo were two ink on paper outlines of the clown.
Just as we finished snapping a picture of Portillo's clown, and before getting lost in the purple-eyed, pouty-lipped subject of Julie Zarate's "Glam Slam," we overheard a student shouting exaltations over Lizbeth Ortiz's "Azulfrida" piece that bordered on orgasmic.
"Look at the African influence on that," she gushed. "Oh, the stories in those thighs. Look at that! Mmm, mmm, mmm."
Indeed, the woman, whose face was half skeleton, half human, and whose body was adorned with a trifecta of Aztec, African and Spanish-inspired jewels and markings, was incredible.
Though Ortiz was absent, Luisa Vargas was there to show off her mosaic bodice.
"If it isn't obvious, I love bling. I don't think I've ever made a [black-and-white] piece in my life," said Vargas about her sparkly mosaic sculpture and accompanying flat mosaic wall hangings. The 20-year art veteran explained that she began crafting stained glass pieces to cope with the death of her father. One day, as she finished a piece, she found leftover pieces of glass and decided to experiment with the shards.
One mosaic later, Vargas was hooked. "Once I went into this," she said, "that was it."
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The show admittedly took us a little by surprise, since we expected to see student art at the show. With the works of these talented professionals, we didn't miss the free beer and appetizers at all.
To October 15. Call 713-718-5291 or 713-718-2402 for more information.