Life Is a Comic Strip

For Victor Muñiz it's a countercultural banquet with a sense of humor

Miami artist Victor Muñiz is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and an alumnus of Miami's New World School of the Arts. "Monster," his show now on display at Leonard Tachmes Gallery, consists of drawings and a mural installation. It is a winner.

Graffiti, comics, Pop, and Sixties counterculture clearly have influenced the 26-year-old Muñiz. Initially his work reminded me of the late Harvey Kurtzman, founding editor of MAD magazine and creator of the satirical Western comic strip Pot-shot Pete. Or maybe some of the peripheral Basil Wolverton characters in Plop!(the DC Comics answer to MAD), and of course Robert Crumb. But there's also a bit of Smurfs' creator Peyo, Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead) and Matt Groening in the mix.

The artist's black-and-white drawings are detailed, preciously small, and realized in an obsessive kind of way. His fine-point pen does the outline, tiny dot-work, doodling, and written exclamations, while a heavier marker fills in the zigzag lines and expletives where language becomes drawing and vice versa.

Victor Muñiz’s ehh., 2004
Victor Muñiz’s ehh., 2004

Muñiz puts it all together in one big countercultural smorgasbord, as if seen from a panoptic vantage point. South Park mutants, whores and pimps, drug addicts, alcoholics, vagabonds, transsexuals, even Cynocephalus ogres mingle in this bizarre play, and they seem not to mind if their place of residence is Little Havana or Little Odessa. Monsters they may be, but unlike their dragon-and-Medusa counterparts of the Middle Ages, this bunch makes us aware, after Auschwitz and 9/11, of our own banality -- what comedian Eddie Izzard refers to as the "everyday trivial-apocalyptic."

Muñiz's fertile mind borrows from advertising, pinball-machine aesthetics, bubble gum cards, and black-velvet portraits of the Smurfs. Behind the action I can hear Frank Zappa, Sun Ra, and Captain Beefheart, but also Yma Sumac, Perez Prado, and Hector Lavoe. Don't miss a rectangular storyboard framed against the wall (across from the gallery entrance). It begins and ends with a José Guadalupe Posada motif and involves a phone call and a note reading, "Remember to call about the money." It's my favorite.

I'm glad Muñiz employs humor instead of irony. During the Nineties we had plenty of the latter. Self-assertive and vain, irony has become clichéd. These days we need a different mood that can put our lives in perspective. There is something lucid about humor that doesn't take itself too seriously. As Will Eisner may have once said, paraphrasing Lope de Vega, "Life is a comic strip."

At Ambrosino Gallery, in the project room, Annie Wharton offers her installation show "Pixie." Also a Miami artist, Wharton is known for her eye-catching abstract pattern paintings on Mylar and vinyl. Her style has developed into a kind of minimal baroque, which seems a contradiction in terms. I remember seeing her work at MoCA's 2000 "Travels in Hyperreality," where she showed peculiar, concentric, cookie-cutter shapes that with time evolved into wavy colorful patterns and were executed on unusual synthetic surfaces, akin to Brice Marden. For a time she explored the minute variation and iteration of these shapes, like a Minimalist composer. But I don't think Wharton's art adheres to a Minimalist credo of building aesthetic experiences without the distractions of actual composition.

For "Pixie" Wharton paints the project room dark silver and proceeds to adhere her synthetic designs to the walls. You see these pink curlicues and green drops next to white doodling and dashes of dark silver over wide, light-gray splashes. It is as if the old Wharton patterns have coagulated into more deliberate forms.

This installation comes close to familiar forms of the organic world: flowers, cell forms, protein bubble explosions. Syncopated sequences come together and then recede, moving up and down the walls with loose designs, parts coming off near the gallery floor. Wharton's clusters swell over the four walls asymmetrically, as if in some kind of invasion. Is it natural? Is it artificial?

Annie Wharton's art has grown in a promising direction. Her subject matter has become more discontinuous and unforeseeable. There's less order and more chaos, but hers is an ordered chaos. Abstraction withstanding, her work now breathes with confidence and maturity.

Also at Ambrosino, stop by the photo collages of Argentine artist Pablo Soria, which are part of a six-artist show called "There's Nothing Wrong with Being Beautiful." Soria lays black-and-white transparencies of bare wooded areas from the Argentine landscape over blue, green, and reddish surfaces (which he has already painted) to bring about odd lyrical vistas.

Seeming to hover between the present and the past, the images exude a melancholic eeriness. Soria's forest reconstructions evince a Romantic touch that both attracts and repels. From German artist Caspar Friedrich to Robert Schumann to Keats, the forest was one of Romanticism's favorite symbols. They didn't see Nature as ordered but rather as chaotic, anthropomorphic, and feminine, something more in tune with Soria's intention. After seeing these pieces, I thought of Percy Shelley's verse: "The frozen wind crept on above/The freezing stream below./There was no leaf upon the forest bare/No flower upon the ground,/And little motion in the air."

Monster Drawings by Victor Muiz. Through November 20. Leonard Tachmes Gallery, 817 NE 125th St., North Miami. 305-895-1030.

Pixie and Theres Nothing Wrong with Being Beautiful Works by Annie Wharton and Pablo Soria. Through November 24, Ambrosino Gallery, 769 NE 125th St, North Miami. 305-891-5577, www.ambrosinogallery.com.

 
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