When you first glance at Roberto Rugerio Guerrero's paintings, they seem almost quaint. The muted hues—grays, browns, deadened oranges and blues—combined with his angular, fragmented, feminine forms are reminiscent of work by the major early 20th century Cubists: Braque, Gris, Leger, Picasso.
The influence is obvious. Yet while the Cubists created fragmented images of ordinary objects based on simplified pictorial spaces and ever-shifting points of view, Guerrero's paintings seem to revolve largely around the concept of forced transformation. He accomplishes this by adding distinctive graphic elements that lend a new layer of meaning to an otherwise familiar aesthetic.
To take one example, "La Silueta que Construye" depicts a feminine figure with a white arm and a yellow arm entwined. Her body descends to an amorphous dress stamped with a blue registered trademark symbol. Serial numbers line the bottom of the painting. Dotted arrows point toward the outline of a rectangular box, implying that if you merely follow a few simple, yet impossibly vague, instructions a woman can be transformed into a box.
Another painting, "Zona de Control," shows a shape composed of cubistic polygons melding into a glowing white arm and another vaguely feminine figure. A blue dot and serial number ornament the bottom left corner of the painting. In the foreground, a tilted bright red rectangle is cut off by the top edge of the frame.
"La Luz que se Recorta" is composed of two frames. The large one to the right portrays a female form with a series of tabs along her edge so she can be easily pasted together. A light blue dotted line points to a second panel with a pair of scissors and an illustration of hands pulling apart a zipper-like object.
Many of these paintings include the same motifs: the cubist feminine forms, the serial numbers, the strange instructions for cutting and folding the figure into boxes of different shapes and sizes. In Guerrero's aesthetic world, women always seem to be on the verge of being packaged, repackaged or otherwise manipulated. These and other paintings in the show suggest to me a feminine eroticism suppressed by an authoritarian power. They are all intriguing, accomplished and appealing, but also somehow oppressive. Many of Guerrero's paintings seem to suggest that the feminine half of humanity has lost its freedom to the forces of commodification and industry.
There are several more subtle variations on this theme. In "Vigilantes Nocturnos," three twisted female forms sit in a row. The bottom halves of each figure depict curving, organic, feminine hips and legs. The top halves sprout into shapes reminiscent of pre-Columbian ceramics, as if these women were in the process of spontaneously transforming from living, breathing organisms into crafted objects for display.
This young artist from Puebla, Mexico, has definitely developed an impressive visual vocabulary. Beyond the dark social vision, Guerrero has created paintings of enormous beauty. His paintings may be disturbing, but they're also highly original and attractive.
There's still another week left to catch the show. I highly recommend that you make time in your busy schedule to do so.
An exhibit featuring paintings by Roberto Rugerio Guerrero runs through Feb. 5 at the Dartmouth Street Gallery. 266-7751.