Artforum Los Angeles
Raúl Guerrero at Richard Kuhlenschmidt Gallery, Los Angeles, CA / Review by Susan C. Larsen, September 1985
“There are no wildly lunging leopards, no tigers burning bright, in Raul Guerreroʼs rain forests of the imagination. He gives us tightly drawn, static relics of pre-Columbian Mexico, and dreamy, postcard images of sexual desire, but stands apart from them, as a spectator in his own narrative.” – Susan C. Larsen
Guerreroʼs images are stylized and commonplace: the ruined temples dismembered statuary, deserted city squares, exotic birds, and jungle cats are like an illustrators fantasy of ancient Mexico. Engaging in a parody of Surrealist juxtaposition, Guerrero manages to drain this rich undergrowth of its potency. His sharp-edged, impersonal way of painting suits his program very well, yielding up little, if any, emotion. American born, Guerrero lives in San Diego, near the border with Mexico, the country of his ancestors. Many have tried to renew the same fund of imagery he explores: films, adventure novels, solipsistic murals, and other channels of popular culture are rife with the derelict remains of old Mexico. Guerrero has no such goal; he shoes us how clichés falsify experience in this group of paintings, though he still pulls romantic strings along the way.
During the ʻ70s Guerrero used elements of native Mexican culture as building blocks for his investigations in conceptual art. He explored ancient musical instruments, masks, and rituals performances for his work in photography and video. The archaeological element in his style and subjects provided a welcome richness amid the didactic neutrality of much art of the time.
The enterprise of the painter, however, is more declarative than analytic, even if analysis is its primary subject. In these paintings Guerrero functions as a conceptual artist, opening up a broad cultural and emotional landscape and then abruptly closing the door. His tight draftsmanship, featureless pigment, and smoothed contours are studied to the point of lifelessness. This contrasts sharply, however, with a group of his black-and-white ink sketches in an adjacent room, which reveal a rich, warm, bravura performance lavished – perhaps wasted – upon simple genre scenes of barnyard chickens and plants.
Passion does not need expressionist form to be legitimate, as Magritte demonstrated so potently. Passion does need sustained focus, even obsession; the light in the eye of the lover is required, not the cool, impartial gaze of the clinician. If Guerreroʼs purpose is to undermine the Surrealist concept of the marvelous, using the myths of Latin America, he has succeeded; but to what end, and at what cost to the life of his own art?