Chema Cobo

Chema Cobo’s recent exhibition indicates that he is nervous and uncertain about the future. From his home in southern Spain, he is counting; 1989 marked the bicentennial of the French Revolution, and 1992 will mark both five centuries since Columbus’s voyage to the New World, and the legislated implementation of a United Europe. Cobo is fascinated with the significance of these dates, and his work examines the meanings of history and the forces set loose in its wake. While the next few years should indicate whether Cobo has been prescient or paranoid, particularly as to his fears and apprehensions about Europe 1992, at this moment there can be little doubt that he suspects a great evil may be let loose upon the world.

Sometimes this evil can take the character of overt exploitation. Cobo titled this exhibition, which visually chronicles patterns of colonialism and imperialism, “Make A Map.” For Esthetic Reasons: Build Your Own Map for Each Celebration, 1989, depicts a globe with a conglomerate megahemisphere made up of South and Central America, Africa and the Near East. Two masked chameleons crawl over these continents. The shadow of the one over Africa forms the number 1789, and the other casts a shadow over South America that reads 1992. Cobo’s imagery suggests that the liberation and extension of the European continent depends on the enslavement of others. In Diogenes Coin, North-South, 1989, Cobo pictorializes the dialectic enforced between the halves of our globe. A golden world spins through space with the words “NORTH” and “SOUTH” spelled out backwards. Each word is bisected by another; “NORTH” is conflated with “GOD,” “SOUTH” with “GOLD.” For Cobo, map making is the circumscription of conquest, the naming and categorizing of possession.

The abject specter of greed and venality let loose whenever gain has been within reach of Europe is at the core of Cobo’s concerns. Spain is currently experiencing a wave of profiteering and speculation in anticipation of 1992, and in his art Cobo personifies this entrepreneurial spirit as an impish joker. Slightly crazed and grinning maliciously, this character, either singly or in droves, stomps through the paintings. Much closer to a Velázquez clown than to Shakespearean Fool, Cobo’s joker is presented as the spiritual product of a society with distorted values. In paintings like Art Coining Authenticity, 1990, the joker inhabits a mirror world where everything appears backwards, and an image of a coin from 1992 carries his leering visage in a parody of commerce.

A narrative impulse fuels Cobo’s current paintings and watercolors. Although they reveal a rich and multileveled sense of fantasy, and bold and expressive paint handling, these are images with an agenda. That they are largely anticipatory visions of the future, gives them the aura of warnings, and assigns Cobo the role of grim prophet.

James Yood