New York

Julio Galan

Annina Nosei Gallery

Julio Galan’s spherical sculptures and large, complex paintings combine figures, landscapes, and still lifes, written and applied objects, exploiting all manner of visual and verbal language. Melodramatic self-portraits stand beside often ironic renderings of religious and political mythologies. Galan’s is a crowded world. His works are overloaded, dense, but also random; by including everything, he asserts no hierarchy of values. Galan, who has worked both in his native Mexico and in New York, seems to be functioning at a complex cultural crossroads, experiencing but not assimilating a wealth of conflicting information. Certain recurrent forms (red ribbons wrapped like serpents around several figures, labyrinths and puzzlelike grids) suggest that he is beginning to formulate a vocabulary, though his use of such elements varies widely.

Galan experiments with all kinds of formal and stylistic devices, one of which is post-dating his paintings—the works here were executed in the past two years. Después de Tanto (After so much, 1992) is a folk-art-type rendering of two children and an enormous basket of fruit; La Esperanza (Hope, 1993) is rendered in a cartoon format. In Cuatro Horas Sin Respirar (Four hours without breathing, 1989), figures surrounded by luminous auras are set against a somber landscape, recalling biblical panel paintings; in Diaman, 1988, a crowned figure holds a glass ball spewing plastic jewels and tiny metal birds. Galan consistently gives his images a self-consciously modern gloss: painted frames and parts of frames belie illusionistic space, and complex patterns laid over scenes call attention to the picture plane. Sometimes Galan cuts holes in the canvas, as if willfully slashing through the deep, dreamy worlds he has created.

The works’ tone is uneven. Many of the apparent self-portraits depict a solitary, floating face of childlike vulnerability. In No Te Has Dormido (You haven’t fallen asleep, 2025), a hunched figure weeps rose petal tears; in My First Three Hundred Years (On Earth), 1998, red vines twist around a face framed by a labyrinth, the whole spattered with blood-red paint. In an untitled sculpture, 1989, such pathos mingles with humor and hope: the eyes, ears, and mouth of a head perched on top of a globe spurt tears that also form a fountain purifying the earth; a tiny rowboat suggests the futility of escaping this flood. Elsewhere Galan indulges in political or religious satire: in Untitled, 1989, a globe is covered with gold cigarette holders and topped by a Mexican peasant in a gold sombrero; De Una Vez (One time, 1989), features kitsch images of Christ with the faces blotted out by black paint. Much of the power of Galan’s work results from its ugliness, its garish colors and awkward forms conveying pain and outrage. Melancholy gives way to derisive, sardonic humor and crude sexual imagery: in Después de Tanto a tree ornamented angles from a boy’s crotch, and in Relámpagos-Naranjas (Lightning-oranges, 1988), mesh-and-gold-ribbon phallic forms protrude from a background of lush fruit.

Galan’s strange juxtapositions of subject matter, scale, and style make puzzles of his works, as though the recurrent labyrinths of his compositions reflect the esthetic maze in which they are trapped. His mysterious, hallucinatory worlds are as troubling and ultimately indecipherable as dreams.

Lois E. Nesbitt