San Diego

Raul Guerrero

David Zapf Gallery

Until recently, the paintings of Raul Guerrero have been light, whimsical, stagey, and somewhat forgettable. Although they shone with sensuous brilliance, the seemed to lack conviction. The new paintings and drawings demonstrate a marked change. They focus on a segment of the night life of Tijuana; the bars and bordellos from the poor people’s barrios. Guerrero renders his images with a loose, generalized style; the compositions are simple and centrally focused, with uncomplicated action. He employs a fauvist palette, working in flat planes of single hues, rarely mixed. Somehow, Guerrero’s use of color is both brash and refined, a quality that adds impact to the work and gives it an otherworldly, after-hours theatricality. At times, each figure in the paintings looks as if it has been lit individually with different gels or stage lights—one orange, one red, one green.

El Resbalón, Dancers, 1989, portrays a roomful of dancers, but focuses on a single pair in the foreground. All that’s shown is from the shoulders up; the man’s lips brush up against the woman’s right cheek—he seems intent on her, but she stares off into the distance. Part of the allure of the picture comes from the fact that their relationship is left ambiguous. The man’s face is granny-apple green, the woman’s a soft violet; these colors set the mood of the picture. The man’s green visage conveys a kind of possessiveness, her light purple suggests a cool detachment. The intimacy of their interaction makes us feel slightly uncomfortable, like voyeurs intruding on territory where we’re not entirely welcome. Coco Club, floor show, 1989, shows a stripper performing for a group of revelers. She lies on a round cushion that looks like a drum. All we see are her shoulders and the rosary beads she carries in one hand. Again, Guerrero uses a harsh mix of color and theatrical lighting, but this time to slightly less emotional effect.

A suite of twelve paintings entitled “The Life and Times of a Venetian Jewess,” 1988, is a narrative series that alternates between images of a woman in her boudoir, at her bath, dressed in costume for a ball. The whole group reads like a wordless film strip, with implications of intrigue or debauchery. Guerrero’s talent makes these images work. The color is bright and seductive, built up in layers of bright hues that have a circuslike festivity to them. Ultimately, however, the lighness and remoteness of this work makes the later Tijuana images shine by contrast.

Susan Freudenheim