Axial Precisions

By Rene Trevino

At C. Grimaldis Gallery through March 8

Looking at Rene Trevino's

dense paintings is a bit like flipping through an encyclopedia or roaming through a history museum; they're full of French fabric, Greek athletes, the zodiac, Aztec artifacts, and elephants. They contain an array of symbols and motifs from all across the planet and through time. It is as if the artist has decided to embark on the overwhelming task of singlehandedly tracing all the world's history and uniting it with his small, delicate paintbrush.


Seemingly random imagery fills more than a dozen circular paintings, which take up an entire wall, featuring an eclectic range of subjects ranging from Persian carvings and star charts to Greek vase paintings and a silvery, iridescent moon. It seems to be some cryptic lexicon of largely historical objects from mostly long-past civilizations.

While the subject matter is historical, the colors are surprisingly modern. The saturation, simplification, and occasional exaggerated exposure make the images feel as if they have been passed through series of Photoshop filters. In some instances, like "Tenango (Rainbow)," the playful color reflects the original object-in this case, the vibrant textiles from the Otomi tribe in Mexico. But, in most cases, Trevino has altered the original colors of the artifact into bright, vivid paintings where the hue glows as if shining from a computer screen. This illusion is increased by the fact that Trevino painted them on matte Mylar (thin, frosty sheets of plastic) allowing light to literally shine through the work.

The addition of iridescent materials increases the interior luminosity of other pieces. "Aztec Calendar (Black)" appears dark and shadowy; it is not until you walk past and catch a sparkle that you realize the shadows are speckled with a layer of tasteful black rhinestones.

Adding to this synthetic quality, the delicate, meditative application of paint is almost devoid of the human hand, except for tiny inconsistencies that become clear upon close examination. Slightly wonky letters and tiny hints of brushstrokes create a moving surface, carefully touched and caressed by the artist, that saves the paintings from falling into stiffness.

The organization of these images into a grid on the gallery wall resembles the organization of a Google Images search-result page. Through this lens, the wall becomes an agglomeration of cultures and imagery much like the internet. Many of Trevino's paintings contain iconic images, ones you would remember from an encounter on a website or walk through a museum. Titles like "Louvre Lion" and "Aztec Calendar (Souvenir)" reinforce this idea of museums and tourism. The disparate images all seem to pass through the same aesthetic filter: an excess of information leveled into aesthetic normalization-a field of color and shape.

Between these images, we find the star charts and the big, silver moon that unite these disparate civilizations from history. There is a sort of universality as you stand before these paintings. The archaic, the unknown, and the expansive join together to create a network of distant, yet interconnecting images of fleeting civilizations and lost kingdoms, connected by the shared starry tapestry that lines the heavens above.

The tragedy of human life is that we are outlasted by our objects. All that's left of past civilizations are artifacts, leftover pieces of culture. Anything we may hope to learn of the people must be found in the objects. In this case, art is the key to knowledge, becoming important memory holders of the people who came before us. Art holds beauty and mystery but also the power of discovery. Trevino's impressive grid references not only technology and the surplus of images, but also alludes to the continental and universal power of art.

The triptych "Tenango Bestiary," psychedelic paintings of Mexican folk pattern passing through all the colors of the rainbow pattern, is not as invested in the predominant themes of technology and the passage of time, but deals with the materiality of paint, directly addressing the tactile quality of the material, which is thicker, gloppier, and has a single, uncharacteristic drip falling from a flower petal. This charming painting of intertwining birds, beasts, and plants is perhaps the closest Trevino has come to Expressionism.

The pair of elephants, "Circus (Red)" and "Circus (Yellow)," is far less intriguing, with their black-and-white circus elephants balancing on colorful, ancient Aztec disks as if they were circus balls. It looks like collage, as if the disks had been cut out and pasted on each of the balls, and amounts to little more than a joke: a little visual pun replacing one round object with a flat one, reminiscent of those "clever" Tumblr photos that one mindlessly scrolls past.

These pieces are particularly disappointing in comparison with the rich, layered pieces where figuration grows out of the pattern, existing simultaneously as a piece of visual aesthetics, symbol, and narrative, while also beginning to ask social and political questions about diversity, ancestry, and the ways people come together. In these works, past cultures are made both relevant and beautiful as they unite to pose larger questions.