Manuel Zamudio takes a pause from his allegorical storyline paintings with his new exhibition, “Giants,” at The Phoenix Gallery in downtown McAllen. In itself, “Giants” is about homage. Technically, this body of work is a continuation of the realism he explored in his last show, “Utopia,” which mixed his allegories with Pop characters and realist portraiture.
With “Giants,” Zamudio seems to step back while going forward.

“The thing I want to do I can’t do yet,” he said, “so I need to climb the ladder to it. To go back and learn.”

These paintings are portraits. With plans to create a fresh reality in his future work, Zamudio wants Pop characters, hyper-realistic figures and maybe hyper-allegory. This exhibition lets us see his development in progress.

“Giants” represents two categories of interest for the artist. The large Pop character painting, “Allegories,” with which we are familiar, comes from the metaphorical adventure series about human enlightenment. There, he painted giant beings of the future earth filled with a fresh curiosity of life, constantly searching to figure out what it all means.

“Giants” also refers to the real people in his life — his wife and close friends.

“These are the giants in my life,” he said. “The giants, my closest friends — I’m putting them in the forefront. I’m doing this now and it’s kind of like a different style; eventually I’ll go back to the main area that I want to follow.”

And so, with this portraiture homage series, the narrative to which we have become accustomed has paused. But Zamudio does not completely abandon his previous storyline aesthetic; these portraits suggest lead actors in a play with his Pop characters in the backgrounds forming a supporting cast.

Often modeled with dramatic highlights — one or two people — often presented from the neck up, show soft facial shading. In the painting, “The Gods will Worship Us,” Pop characters stand in praise of the newly discovered human. The large painting, “Giants,” shows Pop characters in rows behind two figures. With this painting we begin to see what’s on the artist’s mind; the contrasting styles become different dimensions and figures in the midst of eroded mountains symbolize trials and challenges. Playful cords weave through the mountains as if trying to sew them all together.

This idea intensifies in “Space Time Distortion Experiment: 001.” Here, the human figure, the eroded peaks, and the Pop characters are layered and patterned in three-tiered sections.

Manuel Zamudio

“This painting is the last one in this series,” Zamudio said. “With the dimensions and the mountain being distorted, it’s one layer of reality and then you have another layer of reality within it, and the inner reality is very hard to understand, just like art or physics. And you keep going in, layer after layer, and it just keeps getting stranger and stranger. I wanted to make one thing go into another thing.”

The painting addresses dimensional considerations using scale, style and color. The collection’s visual impact makes it the strongest of the series.

Zamudio’s attention seems attuned to a naturalistic realism that plugs into a current wave toward the literal in art. A conservative state of mind is moving into the field, possibly influenced by the humanism of social media. Zamudio is finding ways to keep imagination alive while still embracing this trend.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at


What: “Giants” by Manuel Zamudio

Where: The Phoenix Gallery, 18 South Main Street, McAllen

When: February

Hours: By appointment

Contact: (210) 744-6253