Guaynabichean Odyssey

José Lerma
December 1, 2014 - January 31, 2015

Opening reception Monday, December 1, 6-9 PM
Reception Friday, December 5, 6-10 PM


David Castillo Gallery is proud to present José Lerma’s Guaynabichean Odyssey, a new series of eccentric paintings that delve into the medium’s historical role of commemorating social status, and generating myths for the wealthy and powerful. Born in Spain and raised in Puerto Rico, the artist has developed a project inspired by Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de León, and his search for the mythical Fountain of Youth in modern day Florida. With a dash of inspiration from his personal history, Lerma’s work often reflects on pictorial traditions such as portraiture by prodding at colonial tropes evidenced, for example, in monetary iconography. Both an exploration of the conceptual and material issues of painting, he deftly employs a variety of non-traditional materials and hybrid techniques in the works he has created for this exhibition.


Guaynabichean Odyssey, the exhibition title, refers to Guaynabo, Puerto Rico both the town where José Lerma grew up and the site of Ponce de León’s first European settlement on the island (Caparra).  The artist’s historical research for this show began with an investigation of German printmaker Sebald Beham’s sixteenth century woodcut, Fountain of Youth-Bathhouse (ca.1531).  The woodcut depicts the transformation of elderly figures to youthful ones that are engaged in an array of sexually suggestive and hedonistic acts, while a group of spectators on a roof drink, converse, and enjoy music.  It is one of the most notable early depictions of the Fountain of Youth, which some historians have argued contributed to the myth that Ponce de León was in search of the mystic waters instead of gold and brutal conquest to improve his status in the expanding Spanish Empire.  The Fountain of Youth was a distinctly European obsession; to obtain its undiscovered powers of rejuvenation and immortality were but thinly veiled metaphors for conquest and colonization.


Inspired by these traversing histories and the aesthetics of satirical cartoons, the exhibition features Lerma’s recent experiments in applying relief techniques to children’s brightly colored polymer clay to create paintings with lush textures and tactile surfaces.  These portrait paintings, recalling honorary medals or coins, will punctuate the show depicting individuals who have contributed to the myth of Ponce de León over the centuries.  A massive curtain painting that re-imagines Beham’sFountain of Youth-Bathhouse will be one of the anchoring pieces in Guaynabichean Odyssey.  Other works in the exhibition include the artist’s “glass-less” mirrored surface paintings, a rejoinder to Michelangelo Pistoletto’s paintings on mirrors that he produced in the early sixties.  Simultaneously whimsical and sinister, Lerma’s project re-imagines the layers of mythmaking in Ponce de León’s tale and positions them as metaphors for deflating heroic painting.


Artist Biography:
José Lerma received his MFA in Painting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has held residencies at the CORE program; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine.  He has exhibited his work widely both nationally and internationally at the Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh, North Carolina; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain; Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens, Greece, among others.  Forthcoming exhibitions include a major solo exhibition at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2015.  Lerma lives and works in Chicago and is Professor of Drawing and Painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Curator Biography:
Kristin Korolowicz is a curator at Illinois State University’s galleries.  She has worked previously at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., as the 2011-12 Knight Curatorial Fellow at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, and, most recently as the 2012-13 Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.  At the MCA, she curated solo exhibitions of work by Gaylen Gerber and José Lerma, and worked with chief curator Michael Darling on landmark projects like the exhibitions “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962″ and “Think First, Shoot Later: Photography from the MCA Collection.”  She also co-curated Theaster Gates’s first major solo show at the MCA with Darling.  Korolowicz received her MA in Curatorial Practice from California College of the Arts.  Her upcoming projects include a film and video program at ISU highlighting leading women in the field of moving image arts, launching January 2015 with a presentation of Mika Rottenberg’s work.

José Lerma