By Nicolas Rincon Duran
Jose Delgado Zuñiga’s new show, Into Me See, is an immersive and deeply personal exploration of Chicano identity through the artist’s poignant and highly symbolic muralist style. Canvases painted in the style of great Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros present a narrative that is eminently readable, yet beyond the confines of a single idea.
Into Me See is Zuñiga’s third solo show at Central Fine in Miami. As in his previous exhibitions, there is a sense that the artist has set out to capture a rhythm throughout his paintings: forms and colors crash and collaborate; ideas are represented as illusions, morphing between the abstract and real.
On the influence that the corrido, a traditional Mexican ballad form, has had on his painting, Zuñiga writes, “The corrido strategy for painting gives me room for breath and to play the role of historian, singer, storyteller, and musician. Paintings have an ambiance marked by intensity, stubbiness, jumping point.” This tendency to use music as a reference for composition remains prevalent throughout the exhibition. Fixed ideas and symbols play a recurring role in his pieces, transcending the notion of subject matter for the more appropriate role of form.
Like Siqueiros, Zuñiga places great focus on the hand in his work, using it as a vehicle for meaning. In his painting I Am, we see a mix of discernible and abstract items. The former of these — Miguel Cabrera’s 1763 painting, De Español y Mestiza, Castiza, looms in the background with renditions of Latine characters like Speedy Gonzalez and Slowpoke Rodriguez atop Nike Cortez sneakers — are all purposeful and determined, weaving together a narrative that addresses varying perceptions of Mexican American culture. Above these corralled images, a hand grips them. The skin tone is ambiguous, with hues of brown, yellow, and pink. One is left wondering whether the action represents the act of holding on or tearing away. Of anger and frustration, or persistence, an attempt at maintaining a condition long enough to reformulate it.
The only item in direct contact with the hand in Zuñiga’s I Am is a column, a symbol representing weight. In one of the most physical pieces of the show, Sunken, this idea is embodied by the anchor. Yet unlike the column, which rests on other items, the anchor visibly crushes a pair of mouths sporting golden teeth, another motif in the show. In another painting, Band-Aid, Zuñiga revisits weight again, this time using a cross as its visual representation. Buried among a bombardment of items, we see images of recognizable figures on the cross: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Christopher Columbus, and George Washington. It is hard to dismiss the idea of these figures as saviors here, of martyrs connected to each other through their influence. But the message here is more than that. They are icons of social and historical movements, for better or worse, widely revered as heroes by the communities that champion them, and despised by others as representations of rebellion and abuse. In their controversy, these men have become symbols beyond human status. Zuniga’s piece attempts to synthesize these perceptions, confronting them through his representational language.
Sunken by José Delgado Zuñiga. 2022. Oil on canvas. Photographed by Silvia Ros. Courtesy of Central Fine, Miami Beach.
Like the ideas, the images in each painting alternate between abstraction and reality. In a similar manner to I Am, Band-Aid is also full of discernable images – bones, roosters, a scythe — while the composition is riddled with oblique molds of shapes and colorful silhouettes like something from a fractured consciousness.
Zuñiga’s painting, Face, explores this dichotomy between modes of representation further. The face of a man (presumably that of the artist) is split by what seems like a second, distorted face of an animal. Underneath, unsettling images of flowers, hair, and hands make for a third face with the returning image of a mouth with golden teeth. It is as if this piece plays a more operational role than the others, providing the viewer with an illusion through the layered perspectives.
There is no justification in any of the paintings, only an effort to point out the existence of these complex relationships. And yet, Zuñiga’s work feels driven by spiritualism and inner necessity. The experience of walking through the exhibition feels less like an exploration of intimate feelings and more like being exposed to a wound. Octavio Paz once wrote, “Man, it seems to me, is not in history: he is history.” The rawness through which Into Me See approaches the history of the Chicano is startling, and yet it is what makes the show feel so transformative. Zuniga draws close – aggressively close – to his subjects, and dismisses any attempt at clarification. Instead, he focuses his effort on forcing us to confront them through his perspective, one way or another.
Nicolas Rincon Duran
Nicolas Rincon Duran is a writer based in Miami, Florida.