Los Angeles

“Icons, Bultos and Retablos: A Collection of Primitive Paintings and Sculpture”

Otis College of Art and Design

Some of the most sophisticated and refined workmanship, along with the most crudely primitive, can be found in this collection of icons, bultos and retablos. The greatest variation occurs in the religious expressions of the Southwest Indians. Here the usual material is wood although gesso may be combined with it, and tin too is used either as a ground or as a decorative embellishment. These votive pieces, bultos and retablos, are expressions of the Catholic faith transposed by the intense emotional and, in many instances, macabre nature of the Indian people, into ecstatic images of unique power. Some of the most unusual pieces are lent by the Philosophical Research Society of Los Angeles: an exquisite wood “Christo, a San Ysidro” by Miguel Aragon, a very crude death figure (“Muerte”) draped in black, and a hide painting of “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” No attempt is made to date the numerous objects nor to further identify their origin. The icons, on the other hand, come from either Greece or Russia and are assigned largely to the 18th and 19th centuries, a few going back as far as the early 17th century. Although a majority of the pieces are in a Byzantine style, many reflect a Renaissance (western) manner. The subjects deal with the Virgin, the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, and with a great many local saints, particularly with Saint Nikolas. In many ways the more modest pieces from the Ionian and Aegean Islands, Macedonia, Kithira, Kriti, Thrace, etc., embody more esthetic and religious intent than do the more pretentious pieces from Russia. There is, however, a sense of religious drama and immediacy of expression to be found in any of these sacred images.

Constance Perkins