JOSE ARENAS: A Place in Mind
Oct. 1 - Dec. 6, 2019 | Reception: Oct. 11, 6-9 PM | Artist Talk: Oct. 13, 2-3 PM (FREE)

Sponsored by Rosa Marquez &Yatish Mishra

California based artist Jose Arenas creates works that explore dual identities, personal ritual, migration, and the displaced feeling that occurs from growing up in two countries. Born in San Jose, California, Arenas spent much of his childhood traveling between Northern California and Guadalajara, Mexico. His experiences navigating two worlds along with its complex process of integration and assimilation has informed his work in a variety of ways. By combining decorative patterns, culturally assigned symbols, and familiar abstract forms, he creates an emotionally resonant narrative that remains open to interpretation. His dense collage approach reflects among other things the handmade Mexican street signage found both in Mexico and in many Mexican neighborhoods in the United States.



My paintings examine histories and narratives of dual identity, displacement, and dislocation common to the transnational immigrant experience. Growing up in both Mexico and the United States, I navigated parallel worlds with distinct customs and rituals that would at times intersect.  At other times, when the differences between cultural spaces and norms became difficult to grasp, I floated between two worlds. 

My work explores this personal yet globally shared immigrant experience through collage-like compositions that incorporate and combine familiar forms that reference place, direction, and the feeling of living in a state of in-betweenness. Many of the shapes and symbols that populate my paintings come from a range of gathered sources including old family pictures, textile patterns, religious holy cards, and more recently vintage Mexican postcards. Imagery from California, Mexico, and the journey between provides a backdrop for symbolic iconography, evoking memories and narratives of the migrant experience. My regular habit of collecting, cataloguing, and re-combining disparate elements is a starting point where visual triggers lead to spontaneous and unexpected narrative possibilities. 

In my work I use familiar and recognizable forms due to their bold impact, symbolic potential, and capacity for meaning and association. It’s particularly exciting to combine and rearrange symbolic forms, sometimes spontaneously and at other times in a thoughtful deliberate manner, to produce emotionally resonant narratives. I find it fascinating that a painting will provide an ever-changing experience for the viewer, and that regardless of a symbol’s fixed designation, when combined with others, a host of meaningful and thought-provoking narratives emerge.

Since moving from New York City, I have become increasingly reflective of the juxtaposition between my own experience traveling from Mexico to California with my migrant farmworker mother and siblings, and the Mexican immigrant community that surrounded me in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I was drawn to the urban immigrant experience and the heightened yet often contradictory senses of purpose, excitement, dislocation and longing for home experienced not only by Mexican migrants but by the many people drawn to this metropolis. The fluid mix of cultural iconography found on streets and buildings superimposed on familiar landmarks represented to me these tensions and creative energies. My most recent paintings continue to examine shifting cultural identities and geographic sense of place.
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