Pablo Serrano has an expansive worldview. Ask him about any one of his paintings, and he will respond with the concept that spawned it, usually accompanied by a bibliographed biography of the idea itself. His elaborate, metaphorical works are comfortable tackling happiness and sadness in the same picture. They tend to concern the future more than the past. Nearly all the paintings visible in his solo show “Connections,” running through February 25 at Prospectus Art Gallery, depict subjects in a moment of growth or struggle. He has trod a largely academic path thus far, but his messages carry viscerally.
Upon walking into the gallery, one’s first impression is made by the show’s enormous centerpiece, The Iraq War: An Unnecessary War. Tragedy sweeps off the 10-by-18–foot canvas’ majestic, surreal imagery. In the painting’s bottom-right corner, an Iraqi boy stares up at a festering valley of carnage bordered by the enormous figures of two fallen compatriots reaching imploringly at him. As the valley vaults upward, the figures transform into a wall of faceless, suited men, finally graduating into the recognizable faces of the classically villainous Bush administration, crowned by Dubya himself. They preside languidly over the ruins below them, oblivious to the boy at the opposite corner of the painting. It is a stunning impression of teenage troubles compounded by the super-powered destruction of the United States.
The rest of the paintings ooze similar profundity, but in less Costco-sized portions. There are three themes explored extensively by the works that comprise “Connections.” One is split personality, chiefly portrayed by double limbs. In Between Absolute Faith and Human Doubt, a man wrought from fiery colors embodies contradiction by devoting one of his sets of hands to prayer and the other to arms-akimbo objection. Another piece’s character literally gives as it takes away, again with two sets of arms.
The other two themes are closely related: children and education. “It’s important to teach the next generation how to see original approaches to solving problems. John Dewey called it ‘the challenge of a creative democracy,’” explained Serrano. In his numerous depictions of children, he is unafraid to force the viewer straight into the kids’ eyes, pooled deep with emotion and raw intelligence. This aspect of Serrano’s work wants you to own your future as a citizen of the world that children will shape. His visual manifestos for education complement the respect he shows his young subjects. His paintings of children underpin the explosively curious powers of youth with a nascent stateliness. Cruzando Fronteras shows a young girl on the fateful side of a river, staring sanguinely out of her challenge and toward the unknown, toward you. The faces of Serrano’s child subjects suggest that the budding humanity looking back at you are heirs to all the problems we create, and will only be equipped to deal with them to the degree to which we permit them the virtue of creativity.
It’s something Serrano himself clearly possesses. His style is kinetic and effortlessly captivating. Colors flow evenly and naturally into one another in his paintings. He often sets his subjects against a background of dazzling angles resembling a psychedelic interpretation of rectangular Aztec motifs. The youth, talent, and prolificacy of this Pilsen native ensures that as long as he continues this “hobby,” as he calls it, Serrano will ensure himself a vaunted spot on the Chicago art stage.
Portrait of the artist and his young man, Ibrahim, and his wife Jaquelina.
“Connections”: A one man exhibition by Chicago Artist Pablo Serrano
Prospectus Art Gallery; through February 25, 2011
1210 W. 18th St.
Chicago, IL 60608