By DAVID LOPEZ
Special to the NEWS
Painting in Progress:
Artist Cande Aguilar works on a piece for his exhibit BarrioPOP.
San Benito’s recently opened Cultural Heritage Museum is hosting a new exhibit opening with a reception at 6 p.m. on December 20, 2018 and running through to February 8, 2019. The museum’s previous exhibit featured photography from three different women artists on their perspectives regarding the borderlands, and adhering to this theme is a new exhibit of paintings and installations titled BarrioPOP. Artist Cande Aguilar describes it as relating to his barrio days growing up in Brownsville, using samples of popular images from both Mexican and American culture to create a conglomerate of images reflecting the Mexican-American identity.
“When you come in here, it might take you to some memories or familiarities and hopefully take you beyond that,” said artist Cande Aguilar. “The subject of BarrioPOP is definitely a Mexican-American thing.”
Viewers of both the San Benito and greater Rio Grande Valley area who view Aguilar’s exhibit will notice images evocative of past and present Mexican-American culture, some contrasting starkly such as a cheeseburger and a raspa or characters El Chavo and Christopher Robin.
“For me, Barrio has always been something that has humor,” said Aguilar. “There’s something humorous about being in a street corner of a barrio and exchanging jokes and poking fun at each other. So there’s a lot of that humor in my work.”
BarrioPOP was originally showcased in McAllen’s Sala Arte in 2002 and has grown over time to attract new audiences and works. Currently it is being showcased at San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum and running until March 2019, making Cande Aguilar the first artist from the RGV to host a solo-show at the prestigious establishment. Some pieces that will be showcased on Dec. 20 in San Benito are from the original exhibit while others are brand new. Aguilar’s work has seen many venues, from his first exhibit at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art in 2001 to venues across the United States and overseas in Europe.
“One of the reasons that I’m very excited about this show here at the San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum is that I’m proud to bring barrioPOP home,” said Aguilar.
“It’s an opportunity to educate the community and provide them an experience when it comes to the capacity of the arts,” said Cultural Arts Director Luis Contreras.
Aguilar has a tendency to begin artwork digitally, cropping and cutting images onto a digital canvas, a process that makes him, in his words, a “21st century artist” and uses tools he calls “multimedia paints.” “I use different paints like fabric, acrylic, oil, spray paint. Different characters or subjects have different textures and colors to reflect the variety in real life, like nails differing to skin or hair, in essence like a reflection of nature,” said Aguilar.
There were images reflective of barrio culture even in his early work, like six-pack cardboard boxes of Coca-Cola. Beginning as an accordion player with his father, who was close friends with Gilberto Perez, Aguilar thought music would be his path in life. Though he played professionally in a conjunto well into his thirties, he began sketching and dove into making art while he felt his group was in its final stages, motivated by the challenge and satisfaction that making art provided him.
“Conjunto music was the door into the arts for me,” he said. “The accordion for me symbolizes the sounds of the barrio: you pass by any neighborhood, at least when I was younger, and you’ll hear accordion music in the backyard.”
Aguilar’s BarrioPOP exposition is not limited to the subject of barrio culture just as the Mexican-American experience itself is not one-dimensional.
“I always initiate an idea and it ends up meaning a thousand things to a thousand people, and that plays a big role in my work,” said Aguilar. “Sometimes it reveals itself right in front of you.”