Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dia De Los Muertos at Bakersfield Museum of Art

Figurative Paintings by Gage Opdenbrouw 
Skulls and Marigolds, Old Photos and Flames,

The Day of the Dead or El Dia De Los Muertos is one that is celebrated in many cultures. Usually held in early November, the holiday is for friends and family to remember those who have died, not only by praying but also by feasting and partying, often at the grave site. The Mexican and South American traditions add a macabre twist with skeletons, skulls and masks, in a tradition that harkens back to the Aztec goddess, Mictecacihuat, the Queen of the Underworld. That tradition is visually rich but it’s not alone in an unafraid and honest look at death. The "dear departed" aren't spoken of in hushed tones but are honored and remembered, not shunted away in unvisited graveyards. The Dutch and Flemish painters of the Middle Ages had the same surrealistic take on momento morti with its skulls, skeletons and poignant, unflinching acknowledgment of love and loss.

Gage Opdenbrouw comes right out of that tradition. It’s in the genes, as it were. Opdenbrouw, of Dutch descent (his family was originally from Holland), says that he is influenced by Goya but I also see hints of Ensor and Bosch. I remember seeing his work at the old Campbell Gallery in North Beach and when I accidentally ran into him last month, I took the opportunity to talk to him about his work.

 Born and raised in San Jose, like a lot of artists he loved to draw and paint from an early age. As the oldest boy in the family, his family could have pressured him to “study something more practical,” but they have always been supportive. In a recent interview, he told me, “I’ve always been fascinated with painting and sculpture, but it wasn't until I was about 19 that I made a commitment to study art, to earn a BFA. I went to the Academy of Art because I wanted to focus on traditional skills, to develop a fluency in those skills, which aren’t unfortunately taught in a lot of art schools. I loved drawing and studied illustration for a couple of years. But I realized that it didn’t interest me and that’s when I threw myself into painting. I've had a lot of crappy jobs in my life and will probably have even more, but it's always about the painting." For Gage, it's the journey that matters.

“For 8 years, my studio was at Compound 21, at 21st St & Harrison in the Mission District. The annual parade passes just a few blocks away every year, and myself and a number of the other artists there, including Andy Diaz Hope, Laurel Roth, Hugh D'Andrade, and Mati McDonough would often join in the procession, and would often paint our faces as skulls and dress up in a manner inspired by traditional Dia de los Muertos imagery. I always have found the atmosphere that night to be unique: simultaneously somber and mournful, and also joyous and raucous. In the fall of 2005, I found the celebration especially moving personally, as my grandfather, to whom I was very close, and who was a huge role model to me, had just passed away in late September. So for me, the evening was a very poignant one, as I was surrounded by close friends, loved ones who were still with me, and I was mourning those who have gone on. In reviewing photos I took that night, I found that many of the images could be painted in a way that included all those feelings and more. So to me, the paintings are a personal meditation on universal themes of life and death, love and loss, friendship and family.”

Bakersfield Museum of Art: - the show will be up through mid-November.

Other participating artists include: Jose Guadalupe Posada, Miguel Linares, Paul McMillan, Mark Vallen, Dirk Hagner, Gage Opdenbrouw, Gregg Stone, Frederick Chiriboga, Sam Coronado, Nicholas de Jesus.
Artist's website: 
All images from the artist's website; used with permission
Gage's work is also carried by ArtZone 461 in San Francisco:
Article on Day of the Dead at SF Gate:

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