The hallway gallery at Art League Houston is on fire. In the compact show "Tu Eres O No Tu Eres Mi Baby," Ricky Armendariz's text-based carved paintings are at times smoking, other times blazing red like a sunrise. And the text the artist uses is often repeated, giving it a sense of urgency and passion.
On one level, Armendariz's works function as romantic landscapes. And they're quite beautiful. In Dame Dame Dame, the moody blue-black sky is cut by a streak of pinkish red, likely of a river. Along the lower left, distinctive, soft streetlights trace an unseen road, the headlights of cars floating spookily along it in the blackness. In Dale Dale Dale, we seem to get a close-up of this landscape, with the same reddish-pink form set against the dark outline of mountains.
Over both of these landscapes, Armendariz has meticulously carved out objects -- a helicopter in Dame Dame Dame, a rifle striking a piñata in Dale Dale Dale -- as well as the words of the paintings' title within these subjects. It's an intriguing juxtaposition, this destructive, physical technique over his lovely painting, especially when Armendariz gets to his primarily textual pieces. In works of the same name, he's carved the words and phrases "Mala mala mala," "Tu eres loca pero yo te quiero anyway" and "Tu crazy baby" over plumes of black smoke and magenta skies.
Armendariz was raised in the border town of El Paso, and his paintings evoke this area with their pop culture-y, hybrid use of Spanish and English. On a darker note, they reference the drug wars in towns like Juárez, with their smoke, gun imagery and ominous text and colors. Even some of the carved-out words resemble the scattered shots of bullets in paintings like Tu Crazy Baby, where each letter is made up of numerous holes. These vaguely political works are not unlike the dramatic, classical oil paintings of Mexican-American artist Rigoberto A. Gonzalez, who just had a show at Art League. But that's where the similarities between these two distinctive voices end.
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"Tu Eres O No Tu Eres Mi Baby (Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby)" is showing at Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, now through July 6. For more information, call 713-523-9530 or visit Art League's Web site.