New York

Julio Larraz

While there are certain subjects, from Latin American dictators to still-life-like interiors, that recur in Julio Larraz’s paintings, he has long been known for the refreshingly expansive range of thematic concerns he has cultivated.

Several paintings from earlier shows that continue to linger in my memory include Four Lobsters in a Tub, 1984, a fabulous red picture made eerily poignant by a single claw that peeks over the side of an enormous pot; Mayday, 1987, a symbolic figurative composition featuring an elderly blond woman, in a big black-rimmed sun hat, standing with a group of military men identifiable as such only by the shapes of their caps barely visible over a wall; and The Voice of the Turtle, 1989, a startling aerial view of a large turtle swimming in a pool of water in which the bulky outlines of the animal add to the enigma of the shadowy depths that fill all but a narrow portion of the large canvas.

It is the looming sense of these images that makes their impression indelible, and in his recent landscapes, Larraz further develops this riveting quality. Working from aerial views of New Mexico, he lays bare the abstract elements underlying the earlier representational compositions. The series entitled “Witness to Silence” demonstrates his masterful handling of scale as well as the relationship of surface and spatial depth. In North of Roswell, 1991, Larraz captures the sense of fantasy that can attend the experience of looking down on the earth from considerable heights. The “this-can’t-be-real-but-it-is” quality associated with the aerial panoramas is present in the hilly peaks and ridges that make up the muscular terrain typical of much of New Mexico. In North of Roswell, Larraz takes full advantage of the canvas’ size, creating a composition that suggests its continuation beyond the frame. The abstract patterns of light and shadow do more than cast the sloping shapes of the hills and rocky ridges in convincing relief.

Other paintings in which a dynamic aerial perspective is critical to the revelation of expressive contents are Access Denied, and March Wind, both 1991. In the former, a painting featuring a rugged segment of countryside, the vivid illusion of which contradicts the inherent flatness of the canvas, the prospect of landing even the most sturdy of vehicles would seem daunting. With the painting March Wind, Larraz played on the flatness of the surface to heighten the ambiguous scale erected by the depiction of vast distances. Is the dark shape situated in the upper left of the composition a hat that has blown off, as suggested by the title, or is it some kind of flying saucer? The charged structures and dramatic intensity that abound throughout this series invite multiple readings.

Ronny Cohen