Friday, February 8, 2013

The Sacred within the Mundane: The Art of Wilo Vargas

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

While previewing Wilo Vargas’s Hierophany and Pareidolia exhibition prior to its opening at G Gallery, I noticed gallery assistant Bradford Moody appeared fatigued and wondered if handling Vargas’s large canvases had done him in.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson: The art is beautifully hung Brad. Did installation cause this droopiness?

Brad Moody: Good Lord woman, it came with the canvases rolled, so we had to build stretcher bars before we could hang. Wilo and I were stretching canvas until 9:30 to10 on Friday night. After that I had to work at home to finalize the sale of my triptych, and was up late painting, up early this morning to meet Dan to discuss my show, and take promo photos for some magazine, and various other things to please people. Yes, a little tired.

Wayne Gilbert on the other hand looked rested. He wanted me to know that Vargas is a Peruvian who holds degrees in both archaeology and art, and that his acid-trip aesthetic, what the gallery publicized as “a chaotic, psychedelic sensibility,” is derived from shaman-guided use of ayahuasca, an Andean hallucinogen known as “vine of the soul.” “It’s a tool to open your vision, it brings on altered states of consciousness,” Gilbert told me. One important vision ayahuasca afforded Vargas was a spider to instruct him on how to formulate the colorful paint skeins on his canvases.

Moody pointed to their intersections and allowed me to rub my fingers across them. He described the use of small strings to create the elaborate linear patterns, which must have required obsessive layering. The paintings’ spiraling lines serve as ground for iconographic references to the sacred in other cultures, such as a Buddha figure and a Venus.

“He’s responding to Peru’s complex cultural mix,” Gilbert said, which led to a discussion about the numerous cultures that exist in Peru along with its indigenous people, and brought to mind a Quechua speaking merchant near Cusco who sold t-shirts with the image of a llama spitting into a conquistador’s face, the text below reading “two worlds collide” in Spanish.

Wilo Vargas, Venus (Greek Goddess), 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 10’ x 6 ½‘

In one of his artist statements Vargas asserted he is inspired by ancient Peruvian archeological sites, the lines and colors of which “talk to him of a parallel universe.” So I became excited about the prospect of recognizing Moche, Chimu or other pre-Inca visual language in his art. I wanted to talk to him about Peruvian archaeological sites’ mystical role, their significance in accessing otherworldly realms. “Were some paintings’ spirals derived from the Nazca Monkey’s curled tail?” I asked when I contacted the artist.

Vargas replied that although his work is influenced by the ancient cultures of Peru, there is no direct manifestation of them in the Houston paintings. He talked about what inspired this art, and also sent images of himself in the process of creating it.

Wilo Vargas creating paintings for the Hierophany and Pareidolia series

He began by explaining his series title, which came from Mircea Eliade’s Treatise on the History of Religions. "Hierophany" refers to the manifestation of the sacred in particular places. "Pareidolia" is the phenomenon of observing something sacred in ordinary objects, such as a Virgin in a cloud or a sacred animal on the wall. The phenomenon occurs today just as it did in ancient cultures.

“Modern man shares something essential with the ancestors regarding perception and interpretation of reality, with awareness affected by the experience, culture, beliefs and emotions of the observer,” said Vargas. “Those who view the paintings are involved in hierophany and pareidolia and through observation can discover icons related to their culture.”

Wilo Vargas creating paintings for the Hierophany and Pareidolia series 

Wilo Vargas creating paintings for the Hierophany and Pareidolia series


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