Carolyn Castaño, Garden Head (Port of Spain), 2013

Carolyn Castaño, Garden Head (Port of Spain), 2013

Narco venus and Other stories: paintings and video by carolyn castano

Curated by Anne Brodzky

This exhibition presents the recent work of Carolyn Castaño, a Los Angeles based artist with strong ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2013, Castaño was awarded an artist grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. She is a 2011 California Community Foundation Getty Fellow and recipient of the prestigious C.O.L.A Individual Artist Fellowship 2011.

Castaño’s recent work explores personas and narratives associated with the narco-wars and political dramas currently unfolding in Latin America. She is interested in not just the human toll of these conflicts, but in what these stories say about our often-conflicted fantasies of wealth, love, criminality, honor, and beauty. These fantasies very often come into high relief in our perceptions of women and narco-trafficking, and the Narco Venus series explores the role of women in this male-dominated culture. The Narco Venus paintings play off these women’s roles as sex symbols cum goddesses by evoking art historical representations of the Venus such as Titian’s The Venus of Urbino and Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus. The female figures are set in garden grottos, acid-color sexual Edens where glitter and rhinestone-encrusted tropical flora mix with coca flowers and marijuana leaves. The neon landscape is interrupted by smudges and rolled-out paint that evokes a dark grave. Severed heads and limbs emerge from the blackness, reminders of the violence and death that is an inescapable part of the fantasy of narco-trafficking.

Christopher Knight of the LA Times, describing Castaño’s portraits, says that, “Castaño renders each one as a two-dimensional line drawing in rudimentary black paint on a blank white ground. Something as mundane as a facial feature — the curve of a nose or the shape of an eye — is faithfully rendered. But likeness is swamped by the overwhelming sparkle of glitter-encrusted paint on hair and lips, showers of syncopated geometric patterns in bright, eye-dazzling colors and lush cascades of ornate, stylized flowers.”

In addition to the large paintings, Castaño will present several video works, including her piece, El Reporte Femenil/The Female Report, 2012, in which Castaño plays a bilingual newscaster who reports both sardonically and sincerely on the status of women in Latin America.

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