Innocence Revived: Yuri Zataraín at Kavachnina Contemporary
By Shana Beth Mason
While the contemporary art world rejoices in the hard-edged, cerebrally twisted tactics of conceptual masters such as Matthew Barney, Mike Nelson and Tracey Emin alongside esoteric academia-grown works brought to you by Martha Rosler and John Baldessari, it is easy to forget forms of art which have struggled to attain legitimized prominence from their very origins. Naïve art or primitivism was outwardly rejected by the established Parisian salons before and during the groundbreaking 1889 Volpini Exhibition; only after the deaths of artists such as Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Henri Rousseau did their contributions to the simplest, least academically informed expressions of natural life gain any shred of widespread credibility.
It is with this in mind that regarding the works of Mexican artist Yuri Zataraín becomes an experience in the most basic colorations, applications and formations of paint. With practically minimal compositional structure and barely discernible impressions of organic elements, Zataraín creates works reminiscent of the solitude and contemplative energy sweeping through an English moor. Using subtle tonal changes of grey, black and violet interspersed with bold accents of crimson, maize and titanium white, the once-Industrial Design student (graduating from the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara) ventures into the hazy realm of contemporary art with virgin eyes and attitude.
Also proficient as an engraver and sculptor, Zataraín respectfully nods to primitivist precursors with totemic figures painted with overlapping, interlacing images of faces. This woven effect of faces is also carried out through his studies and full-scale paintings, vacillating between the sensation of anonymity and hints of individuality represented in the weight and shade of color. But possibly his most engaging efforts are found in his abstract geometrics and landscapes; alternating light sources, tonal distribution and a noted lessening of the overall color palette. Red blobs resemble poppies strewn on trees and laid at the feet of, what appear to be, people. The symbolisms of bold red against melancholy gray are far-reaching: from memorial gesture to psychedelic agent. In either case, Zataraín exhibits a quiet control over these intriguing pictures reducing both content and composition to a pleasant minimum. While complex visual stimuli, conceptual narrative and contemporary cultural critique are all essential to the making of a powerhouse artist, Zatarain restrains these grandiose notions as if filling the body of a child. This is a reminder: come back to Earth before the sky swallows us whole.
The unforgiving, competitive market would likely care to overlook or dismiss Yuri Zataraín’s goal of lifting a deeply innocent, subjective sensation to the canvas without hesitation. Some may object to a revival of Art Naïf as escapist or blind to the heaviness of cultural translation in visual forms. But then, would it be wise to label every corner of contemporary art as heartless? Soulless, even? There is a navigable route for artists of every makeup, as Zataraín proves that there is still room for unblemished, if sometimes childish, simplicity. The endgame for his Miami debut is one carried with Zen-like humility, adding a stroke of optimism.
Yuri Zataraín’s recent works will be on view at Kavachnina Contemporary from September 8 through October 5, 2011. 46 NW 36th Street. Wynwood Art District, Miami. 33127. www.kavachnina.com
Shana B. Mason is a South Florida-based art critic and consultant. She pursued an M.A. with a focus on Modern and Contemporary Art from Christie’s Education in London.