Shotgun Review

Conviction and Emotion: The Art of Luis Gutierrez from the 1970s to Now

By Shotgun Reviews May 16, 2011

Educated in the United States and Mexico, Luis Gutierrez is touted as a Mexican-American artist. Nevertheless, his art is not hindered by the hyphenated tribalism of identity politics of the past few decades. His work includes no Virgins of Guadalupe, no bleeding hearts or other Mexican symbols; instead, it is dominated by abstraction and assemblage. According to the artist, he looks toward New York as a model of artistic value, but the high-quality expression of his art just might make Gutierrez an overlooked Bay Area treasure.

Despite the title of this exhibition, his earliest piece in the show is from 1967, a thickly impastoed, brilliantly colored work of oil on board titled Red Abstraction. (Disclaimer: I am a sucker for impasto.) Inspired by Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell, he constructs his assemblage pieces from small objects collected over a lifetime. The resulting compilations of Americana are an anthropologist’s dream. Of particular note is Panic Button (1985–2010). Begun in 1985 and only completed last year after Gutierrez cleaned out his studio, it is an intricate, untiring, and nostalgic work filled with, among other things, hardwood and plastic rulers; toys; colored pencils; seed packets and advertisements; and images of the artist, a dough-boy, Mickey Mouse, and an Aborigine.

His more recent assemblages are much simpler, but no less powerful. Where is My America? (2010) hints at the political passion underlying some of Gutierrez’ other artworks. It is a wooden box, attached to a twenty-by-twenty-four-inch board,

Panic Button, 1985-2010; assemblage, 30 x 36 in. Courtesy of Togonon Gallery, San Francisco.

covered by hard plastic and stuffed with an American flag. Over the flag, a large red weathervane arrow points down, surely a comment on America’s moral, political, and financial decline.

Gutierrez often works in series, and one of the most poignant of them in this exhibition includes his works on Hurricane Katrina. All acrylic on heavy paperboard, the series seems to start with New Orleans #1 (2007), an ordered abstraction done in colors repeated throughout: light gray, black, orange, turquoise, and dark greens, blues, and yellows. A stand-out, Katrina #1 (2007) is a cracked, light gray whirlpool of chaos over a predominately black background, suggesting the ordered city of New Orleans descending into the catastrophe of Katrina. 


Conviction and Emotion: The Art of Luis Gutierrez from the 1970s to Now is on view at Togonon Gallery, in San Francisco, through June 11, 2011.



Allegra Fortunati holds graduate degrees in Political Science and Art History. She lives and works in San Francisco as a freelance writer for several publications, both local and national.

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