THE ONE WHO DOMINATES THE REBOUND WILL DOMINATE THE GAME (POP ART OF THE 21ST CENTURY), by Diego Maureira.

The researcher and art theorist Diego Maureira (Chile, 1989) writes about the work of the artist Marco Arias (Chile, 1988) for the exhibition catalog “Depresión Post Pop” /”Post Pop Depression”/. The collective show, curated by the same artist, was made in Casa Parque Villaseca. Santiago, Chile, August 2017.

On january of this year I end by accident in D21 art gallery, where the exhibition of the Master of Visual Arts of the University of Chile took place. I didn’t went with any expectation. My assistance responded to reasons that, at this precise moment I don’t remember, but that surely were very important. In that exhibition I went across works that for now I don’t remember either. I have a very bad memory for some things. But there was an exception. It was a painting. It was the image -obviously tired- of politicians and power figures portrayed in groups (The Forbes Club, 2016).

This painting, made on a canvas of enormous dimensions, didn’t hide the pulse or the gestures of its author. That is, it was a classic painting where the stain was more alive than the portrait itself (the minimum requirement of contemporary painting is that the pictorial material reveals itself). Later, looking carefully at that work, a detail that had completely neglected appeared. It was at that opening that I met the painter Marco Arias. The detail I discovered was pink and drastically changed my interest in his work. It was nothing less than one of Kakaroto’s legendary rivals: Majin Boo!

As many know -about those who grew up in the faded 90s-, Majin Boo is a character from the Dragon Ball Z saga, created by the Japanese Akira Toriyama. It is the last important enemy of the series, which then gives way to Dragon Ball GT (the most postmodern version within this story). Majin Boo is characterized by being extremely powerful. His body has a ductile and somewhat plastic character that differentiates it from the androgynous severity of previous rivals. At the same time, Majin Boo stands out for having a skin -and a consistency- of a marked pink color (close to drawings such as the Pink Panther, Kirby, Chibiusa, Jigglypuff, Patrick Star or the Princess Bubblegum).

I don’t want to return here to the vagaries that the painting has had to overcome throughout history, but there is a curious inclination in the work of Arias that must be mentioned. This can be projected throughout his work and is explained quite well from the contrast between the group portrait of the powerful -businessmen and politicians who include Ponce Lerou, Luksic, Paulmann, the Matte brothers, Angelini, Piñera, among others-, and the background of the painting, occupied by a large-scale fragment of the body of Majin Boo. What is Majin Boo doing there? The painting is so large that the fragment tends to disperse the clarity of its evil referent. Majin Boo becomes part of the monochrome background and is lost to the naked eye. In fact, it is necessary to look at the complete picture to encompass its image.

What I thought when I saw this work was that probably many people may be out of reference. Even for me it was difficult to recognize it. When I did it, of course, it was a moment of enlightenment (it’s always great to see Majin Boo). However, many people have no idea who this strange being is. Many, too, don’t even understand that it is a figure and not a mere monochrome background. This is what we can understand as a complete change of visual imagery. Majin Boo only inhabits the retina of the grown up in the post-dictatorship. That is, the Kenshin Himura, the Akane Tendo, the Rei Ayanami, the Kaede Rukawa, the Ten Shin Han, the Sailor Jupiter.

Before arriving at this cultural and generational discontinuity, let us stop at some technical issues. In the work of Marco Arias, two relatively clear lines emerge. One associated with the personalist incarnation of power, characterized by an openly pasty painting (the aforementioned minimal request of contemporary painting), and another entirely devoted to the television culture of the 90s and part of 2000 – especially from the Japanese animated production, which starts from the comic strips and manga, worked from a pictorial prolixity without self-conscious pretensions.

The appropriation of images, in this second case, has no nuances. In terms of image, it goes in the line of Andy Warhol (the object as it is), and in terms of production, it is closer to Roy Lichtenstein (the hand still stands out). The current work of Arias, entitled “Resurrection of Lazaro”, is completely submerged in this second aspect, much fresher in terms of content and much more carefree in disciplinary terms. What matters the weight of the pictorial tradition when the character literally steals the entire film? There is no pictorial language that can be balanced against the epic of Saint Seiya, Hanamichi Sakuragi or Shinji Ikari. What difference does it make? Pop was not exactly that … the end of the 19th century?

I have nothing against the local characters of popular court. However, his presence sounded a little obsolete between the animé figures and the current owners of the country present in the D21 show. I refer particularly to an insistent Condorito that stood out in some paintings by Arias. I remember it was one of the first things I asked him when we met. “What is Condorito doing here?” For me, with Majin Boo the painting was finished. Arias told me that Condorito was also part of the endearing childhood figures that he drew insistently in his school notebooks. In addition, he explained that Gonzalo Díaz had found it completely pertinent to incorporate a motif of that height (recognized transversally in Chile). I don’t think that Condorito is wrong in the paintings of Juan Domingo Dávila or Manuel Torres. It’s okay. Only its historical and massive protagonism makes me sound in parallel to the stroke and the Japanese spectacular. I am sure that Gonzalo Díaz does not know who is Majin Boo and for that reason it may be logical to integrate Condorito. Majin Boo should turn Condorito into chocolate. Or better: It should turn Gonzalo Díaz into chocolate.

Since the 50s of the last century, art has established a consistent and quite fluid relationship with mass culture. This has become an inexhaustible source of visualities integrated to reality, coming from TV, movies, magazines, newspapers, internet, etc. The current sample of Marco Arias is heir to the pictorial collage (Peter Blake style) and the erasure of boundaries between painting and graphics so typical of Pop Art. This time, in the hands of Marco Arias, the motifs come almost completely and absolutely from the animated TV series.

In recent decades in Chile, Pop has had a curious closeness to urban art. However, its presence within art schools has never been completely atypical. Younger artists such as Antonia Sepúlveda (Sue Hellen) or Samuel Cortés are an example of this. The first approach to Pop from the marked use of flat colors, produced from fully graphic media. The images, in this case, resist clipping or direct copying. In that sense it has a more “creative” character (as proposed by abstract art or also called concrete artists). Antonia Sepulveda’s love handles – a recurrent character in her work – contort and multiply in a colorful and satirical setting in El Bosco’s Garden of Delights. The work of Samuel Cortés, on the other hand, takes up the direct clash that the vanguards of the beginning of the century had with mass culture. Samuel Cortés uses such canonical figures as Paul Cézanne or Marcel Duchamp to make them live with the most characteristic signs of our time (the Youtube logo, to name just one example). All this from a graphic work and a support devoid of any artistic nobility: the plastic.

Regarding the referents chosen by Marco Arias, the artist has confessed his predilection for the leading characters or what he calls “the power figures” – hence his first representations focused on presidents of the republic or sinister businessmen. About this, I shared with Arias my personal preferences (my taste goes another way, much more “couvean” /from chilean painter Adolfo Couve/): I have always preferred the antagonistic or lost characters, the anti-heroes or those who rightly embody failure: Piccolo Daimaku, Raditz, Ryoga Hibiki, Ukyo Kounji, Tetsuo Shima, Asuka Langley Sohryu, Hisashi Mitsui, Kicchou Fukuda or Hanamichi Sakuragi himself.

If we take the current paintings exhibited by Arias, on the contrary, we find guests who overflow by their excess of protagonism: SpongeBob, Freezer, Gumball, Mordecai and Rigby, Bugs Bunny, Tuxedo Mask, Seiya, Finn, the cat of El Club de los Tigritos, Condorito, Skeletor, Sakuragi, Shinji, Bulma, Chiquitín, Arturo Vidal, Meowth and the dog of Chocapic. The drawing in the six paintings that make up Resurrection of Lazaro is precise, and in that sense, the hand is annulled by the prolixity of the craft. The characters and scenes burst on their own. To be the star on the court, Sakuragi turned a key lesson into a maxim: “who dominates the rebound dominates the game”. When the subject of a work is common to the public (think of the Coca-Cola bottles or cans of Warhol’s Campbell soup), the artist has earned ground in the rebound.

For closing, it is worth mentioning a small anecdote: When Marco Arias was visited by Gonzalo Díaz in his studio, he criticized him for using an oil marker. The aforementioned academic was perplexed by the precision of the line and his obfuscation was enormous when he learned that Arias was practically drawing on the canvas. The response of the young artist was that he lived in the 21st century and that he had no problems with accommodating himself to the tools of his time. That’s where it all ended: the offended teacher replied that he could stick the marker “where he could” up and left. By the way, an artist friend asked me recently, with distress, if I thought painting was dead. “I think not,” I said. “But there is very little that is alive”.

 

About Diego Maureira (Santiago de Chile, 1989):

Lives and works in Santiago de Chile. Theorist and Art Historian of the University of Chile. Postulant to the degree of Master of Arts with a major in Theory and History of Art from the same university. Teacher in professorships of modern and contemporary art (University of Chile, Diego Portales, Alberto Hurtado and ARCIS). He had published articles in art magazines and research related to Chilean art of the last decades. Among others, he has written in the books Arte, ciudad y esfera pública (Metales Pesados, 2015), Ensayos sobre Artes Visuales. Volumen V (LOM Ediciones, 2016), De la tierra al cielo: arte, cultura japonesa y escenas locales (Editorial Filacteria, 2018) and Astrónomos sin estrellas (Ediciones Departamento de Artes Visuales, 2018).