'Viva Siempre' Overwhelms the Space at the Light Gallery, But Don't Let That Stop You From Going

Top Hat
Tim Shelton, "Somewhere in the Forest"

Inker Management
The flood of tattoo-artist submissions to ‘Viva Siempre’ overwhelms the Light Gallery, but don’t let that stop you from checking out the many gems to be found

When Light Gallery director Steven Borts and co-curators Trina Centola and Tim Shelton approached a handful of tattoo artists to solicit items for the exhibition “Viva Siempre,” the word spread. They must have been excited when the pieces began rolling in. And then they never stopped rolling.

With the gallery receiving submissions as late as the night before the opening, the resulting show is, frankly, a bit of a mess: an overwhelming agglomeration of more than 60 pieces. Haphazardly displayed, “Viva Siempre” hasn’t been curated so much as hung in every nook and cranny where there’s blank wall space in the gallery.

To prevent my head from exploding, I noted but mentally put aside work that just recycled tattooing clichés and pieces without artist’s names attached. Even then, I had more good work than I had space to write about. So consider this an incomplete list of the cream of the crop:

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Shelton’s exquisite Magritte-influenced, oil-on-wood Somewhere In the Forest provides the viewer with the back of a man’s top-hatted head, his naked torso attached to a ribcage made of trees, his hips a small, circular building surrounded by stanchions and guide ropes leading to an entrance roughly where his ass would be. If that isn’t enough of a Freudian minefield for you, there’s more: a fish attached to a line pokes its head out of a hole in the ground, an ax becomes overgrown with weeds, and a threaded needle starts to sew up another hole nearby, as bright-orange curtains parted in the middle attempt to hide the proceedings from watchful eyes.

Equally surreal is Alexis Vaatete’s fable-like The Master and His Apprentice, as a short, squat artist with milky cataracts, palette in one hand and bandolier of paint tubes strapped across his chest, stands in the foreground as a dark figure pulls itself from the canvas behind him and approaches, oozing thick paint like a mammoth in a tar pit.

The irony of “Viva Siempre” (“Live Forever”) is that much of its imagery surrounds death. Skull studies abound (Alan Padilla’s Aztec Skull and Kareem Masarani’s Monkey Party are highlights). Big Gus’ Angelic Muerte isa tattooed chola with a come-hither look on her face, wings radiating heavenly light behind her, as Jeffrey Page’s rich, crimson-and-yellow, skull-faced jester in his Key to Happiness Is Laughing dances amid a dark cityscape. More solemnly, several photographs and paintings are dedicated to the late “Chuco” Caballero, a beloved ink-slinger whose legacy haunts the exhibition.

Adam Turk’s three pieces (two drawings and one painting) are all creepy/coolly ghoulish: Nevermore substitutes the raven’s words with a dialogue balloon containing a skull and crossbones; a young man in a business suit clutches at his chest, looking for his misplaced heart, while a skeleton holds a flower as nicotine-yellow as he is, red hearts filling the orbs of his empty eye sockets.

Takuya Sugiyama’s Shou-Ryu-zu (Dragon) is an explosion of beautiful color, as the snarling monster rushes up from the ocean’s depths. The more sedate, black-and-white Sha-mo-zu (Rooster), which shows its subject standing on one leg, is full of movement as cherry blossoms twirl down in a cascade.

Last, but certainly not least, recent OC Weekly cover subject Jose Lopez (see Daffodil J. Altan’s “Body of Work,” March 13) supplies two magnificent untitled pieces: a giant painting of a statue of the Aztec god Xochipili—so visually astute you can feel the grain of the stone with your eyes—and an Aztec warrior, serenely closed-lidded, the top of his headdress a plume of red fire.

There’s no denying that the curators show robustly good taste in their subject matter, and we should be grateful for the numerous gems on display here, but I don’t think the exhibition does its artists or viewers justice. When many displayed pictures were still unidentified as late as a week after the show’s opening, leaving the viewer to guess the artist’s name or the medium he or she worked in, someone hasn’t done his or her job.

In the end, it was a lot like having a lover so addicted to tattoos they just blend into one big design. You want to say (lovingly), “Stop! No more!” because it’s so very easy to lose sight of the individual beauties of the art if your attention is being pulled in too many different directions. So be warned. Visit “Viva Siempre”—I think you’ll be glad you did—but prepare to take your time, so you’ll be able to look at your lover’s body an inch at a time, paying attention to every curve.

“Viva Siempre” at the Light Gallery, 440 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 515-2018. Open Tues.-Sat., noon-7 p.m. Through April 24. Free.

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