Surface Treatment: Beyond surface appearance

McAllen exhibit offers a variety of perception, featuring themes of conceit, control and mental stability

At the North American Art Gallery, “New Concepts” takes the stereotype of portraiture as an antiinspiration.

“It came out of the idea of Jonathon Searfoss’s commissioned portrait that was rejected by the buyer, explained David Freeman, curator and gallery owner, “because a family member said wrinkles made their mother look too old.”

This has been a problem with traditional portraiture where the ideal appearance of the subject has been a given concept leading to pleasant, but rather vapid, art works.

“We all have this ego and conceit,” Freeman continued. “We want ourselves and loved ones to stay around and look young forever; we don’t like to think, or be reminded, about impending loss, and when you’re wrapped up in temporary defects you overlook the bigger picture.”

The works in “New Concepts” go for the big picture. These images take the viewer beyond surface appearance; allowing portraiture to become a vehicle to say more. Considerations about how individuals relate to their social and mental state creates both flawed and ideal faces, relegating the human visage to a secondary statement. Twelve artists from the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio are represented in the expanded gallery space.

Two traditionally styled portraits and an installation serve as temporal markers for the idea of human existence. At the entrance hangs Searfoss’s life-filled portrait of a middle-aged woman that inspired the exhibit, Anna Lourdes Hernandez speaks of the fragility of human existence with an archival photographic installation of her life’s memories in her “Butterfly” analogy, and at the far end of the gallery, “Julian V” by Cesar Martinez serves as closure.

Martinez is documenting the past and chose his somber subject from newspaper obituaries.

The human personality is complicated and offers contradictions and projections. Luis Contreras’ fascinating rear-view image, “Independent Follower,” is seen through a mesh of maze-like circuitry. Delvis Cortez’ “Man of La Mancha” wears confident attire, yet his situation is overwhelming, and his head is in the process of an explosive meltdown.

In the individual paintings, Jason Willome’s family members appear unapproachable; they are depicted/defined behind an invisible wall identified by brush strokes or flocked dots. Carl Vestweber’s pink wearable hangs limply from the ceiling.

Commenting on change through the human entity, Manuel Zamudio moves his dystopian vision into an intense realism. His four small paintings depict inhabitants of a failed society who still hope for another way.

In “Idol Worship” society has fallen, and as cults have gone into the woods to hide; a confused woman seeking change considers worshipping the hand instead of Jesus.

Cande Aguilar hopes to solve visually insurmountable problems as a Superhero in his mixed media, “Pvado Ser,” while J.A. Salas’ wall length rice paper mural, “Not There to Notice-State of Mindlessness,” suggests that people are oblivious to it all, anyway.

On the optimistic side, Jesse Amado considers a human act to gain control. Referencing the alchemist’s dream of turning lead into gold, Amado has applied gold-colored lipstick and kissed two framed sheets of lead. Ironically, his kiss has increased the value of each lead sheet into the current price of an ounce of pure gold.

The variety of perception in this excellent show is gratifying. Portraiture is about documenting and otherwise preserving the visible essence of someone. Almost anyone can flirt with posterity through appearancebased art, but this exhibition moves the genre beyond the isolated image and brings the idea of personhood into arenas that truly define what it’s like to be human.

Although the gallery does not have daily viewing hours, easy access may be arranged by phone. You should arrange it.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art, UTRGV, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at