Launched in 2015 to celebrate and steward art within our community, the Overland Art Program promotes both established and emerging artists, inspire the design process, and encourage creative thinking. As part of this program, Overland hosts a series of rotating art exhibits throughout the year.
Within different regions and eras across the world, woodblock print-making has varied in technique and purpose from book-printing to art-making and early mass production. In modern culture, the process has continued to diversify, yielding the works of such artists as Richard Armendariz, the Overland Art Program’s current featured artist. Reflecting the familiar vivacity of color, process, and storytelling of wood-block prints, Armendariz’s work feels personal and intriguing.
As distinct technical practices and regional customs have characterized the evolving history of the medium, Ricky’s work embodies imagery and process definitive of his own specific place and identity. Born and raised on the southern border in El Paso, Texas, the intersection of Mexican & American culture manifested through art is a distinctly powerful characteristic of his work. In the same way that we as architects work to embody what we refer to as the “genius loci” of our cities or the “prevailing character or atmosphere of a place”, Ricky aims to epitomize his experience of place and culture through art.
In his work, grit and garnish, landscape and culture, romanticism and candor meet in quintessential Texas style. It is marked both by modern and historic qualities. In some pieces, traditional techniques of landscape paintings fill the canvas with rich southern skyscapes, superimposed with power-tool carved and tattoo-like iconography lyrics of Tejano/Conjunto music. In others, metaphysical links of southwestern wildlife to ancient mythology and symbology infuse wood-block prints with layers of anecdotes.
Themes of storytelling saturate Ricky’s work, often taking form in the referencing of mythology, and folklore. Although expressed through different form, these works have captured us at Overland, appealing to our ambitions to tell stories through the spaces we design by means of architecture and space. Featured appropriately in our entry space, three large narrative pieces hang on a gallery wall beyond the courtyard at our office, each intricately depicting narratives spoken through print. Among them, a large buffalo draws me back to my home in Oklahoma where Native American storytelling has shaped my perception and fascination with the impressive creature.
Ricky allows stories to unfold in his pieces through the perspective of the viewer from various distances. Moving closer to each work, observers discover the constituting carved layers of iconography and lines generating the images, exemplifying the narrative detail Ricky has mastered. Such is true of the buffalo as viewers close in on the piece, which can be seen swarmed by crows and moths, the former of which slowly ravaging the creature. The piece’s title, “Saturn and his Children” suggests the buffalo may be a representation of the dark mythology of Titan Cronus or “Saturn” who devoured his son in a gruesome painting by Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
Referencing another Spanish painter, Diego Velasquez, is a series of oil painting portraits in the showcase at Overland – a notable shift in medium. “Sons” and “Daughters” of Velasquez depict faces with floral-like painted gestures or “beauty marks” adorning and obscuring their portraits, most notably Juan de Pareja who practiced under Velasquez. Although the only traditional oil-paint works in the show, the theme of portraits is widespread through Ricky’s portfolio as an extension of the narrative quality of his wood-block work.
In his title piece, “Only Time Will Tell Whether a River Runs Through Heaven or Hell“, the powerful portrait of artist Luis Jimenez, a mentor to Armendariz, is carved in Ricky’s prominent style. Jimenez, a former student of architecture and acclaimed Southwestern artist who spent a great deal of time working in El Paso, was most well-known for stimulating and striking sculptures such as “Man on Fire”, a fiberglass and resin figure housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A flaming skull in the portrait carved into Jimenez’s forehead reminds me of the sculpture. One cheek bears a carving of a horse head, perhaps referencing other famous Jimenez pieces, Denver’s “Blue Mustang” and the Smithsonian’s “Vaquero”, while the other bears the word “Chuco”, a nickname given to El Paso. While Jimenez practiced primarily in sculpture, his parallels to Armendariz are plentiful; the work of each illustrates the identity and intersection of Mexican and American life in pair, harnesses a modern expression of historic artistic qualities and techniques, and references narratives of man, nature, and culture.
Just beyond the piece hangs another portrait of a compelling female artist, Kara Walker, recognized for her ability to tell powerful stories of African American history and culture through silhouette imagery. As in the portrait of Jimenez, icons carved into the portrait of Walker’s face represent themes of her work and identity as an artist. Her portrait in a captivating blue skyscape, alongside the magenta and violet sky of which Jimenez is carved, presides over the studio space at Overland as if watching from above the bustle and commotion.
As we work to strengthen and support our cultural identity through the Overland Art Program with the promotion of local artists, Ricky Armendariz is a striking lead. His work intersects the legacy of woodblock print art with his own distinguished character and experience. Culture and identity in iconography and landscape of the Mexican-American border as recurring features of his work echoes the history of print as a vessel for sharing and celebrating the social qualities and impact of place. The coupling of text and illustration remind me of the ancient history of print processes in scripture and book-making and serve as a means for Ricky to share truisms of life personal to him. Portraiture and narrative art, featured in the showcase, sustains the tradition of print-making as a story-telling tool, illustrating human life and folklore. The presence of Ricky’s work in our creative workspaces at Overland perhaps serves as a precedent for our ideation process. In this showcase, we are surrounded by intricate works of personal story-telling through art which inspires our design process, stimulates our creative thinking, and informs how we may choose to reflect our own life stories and experiences in the built environment.
For more about Ricky Armendariz, visit the Ruiz-Healy gallery website.