San Francisco

Agustin Airola

Pomeroy Galleries

Airola’s is a strange art, part craft, part pictograph, part painting. He is a Yaqui Indian, born in Topolobambo, Mexico, who has lived in Barcelona, Spain, for the past 15 years. As a youth, he studied under artists in Finland, Holland, Rome and Madrid, but none of these contacts has erased the instinctive remembrance of Aztec carvings and Toltec murals from his work, or subdued the inherited impulses and cultural experience which brought these carvings and murals about.

For he does not depend upon Indian motifs, but reasserts his heritage in a refinement that borders on dream stuff. His animals are anteaters, armadillos, or “squirrel-hole” owls––figures known to every child of northern Mexico but strange to Europeans: Yet he redesigns them with the naive freshness of Paul Klee; bejewels them with real coins, burnished to an ancient patina, or with glowing line pulled in a gossamer web over shell, hide or skin, endowing them with the quality of myth, something un­believable believed.

There is a persistent archaism in all of Airola’s work. It reeks of old super­stitions, treated lightly but respect­fully, and vague remembrances of co­lonialism, “black” Catholicism and pagan rites. And there is also much of the native craftsman in it, not only in his richly surfaced cathedral portals, but in the “spun gold” hair of his little Meninas, and the fresco blues which seem to have come straight from the lining of the wayside shrines one sees along every Mexican road.

Maybe there is too much craft, be­cause without a sense of history, his figures become just surface decoration. At any rate, he brings to mind the aphorism: “All that is not traditional is plagiarism.”

E. M. Polley