A Life's Art

William Cordova is a softhearted smart-ass who makes visual wisecracks in exquisite postcard-size paintings that can be funny, touching, and often maddeningly obscure. Scrawled graffiti, surreal bons mots, graphic design icons, expressionistic drips and blobs, scraped and weathered paint, pencil sketches, advertising slogans, and street talk collide on the small poster-board surfaces, resulting in intricate pictures that appear surprisingly spare.

In "Most of the Time," his installation at Ambrosino Gallery, dozens of Cordova's little paintings are stuck to one wall in a meandering configuration that, to the artist, looks like a crossword puzzle and represents the path of his life. Cordova sees his work as a journal, a way of recording his daily experiences, observations, and childhood memories. A native of Peru, he moved to Miami at age seven and later attended the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago on scholarship. He admits to feeling continually displaced, and his art suggests an itinerant lifestyle and vague recollections of dreamlike places. Cordova writes in the same way as he speaks, in English and Spanish, and his grammar is poor in both languages. Nevertheless his works quote philosophy, song lyrics, and everyday conversations.

The paintings on view at Ambrosino reflect days, places, people, and both casual and momentous incidents in the life of the artist. Not surprisingly the pictures often refer to relationships; images of fissured cable bridges and loaded cannons are interspersed with phrases such as "the unfortunate move," "two faces," and "high maintenance." One spare work shows a megaphone and a typewriter above the words "she own a lot of spics and spades." Cordova says the piece is about a woman "who went out with a lot of black and Hispanic guys just because her family didn't like it, and she was always telling everybody." Thus the megaphone. The typewriter, Cordova says, "is me." Dunce caps, punching bags, and overturned chairs are symbols that frequently appear in his art.

His other works depict houses where Cordova has lived, neighborhoods he's visited, streets he's walked. At age 29 he pines for old-school graffiti and rap, and his paintings often resemble worn city walls, plastered with remnants of concert posters and spray-painted tags. He also recalls the B-movies that gave him his first impressions of the United States. In an accompanying series of photos on display in the gallery, he poses as a smalltime, Scarface-era gangster, snorting coke and playing with guns and women.

Although Cordova's images derive from distinct personal experiences, he says he wants his works to remain subjective on the part of the viewer. He's even willing to help them interpret what they see. "I tell people different stories about the paintings depending on who they are," the artist admits. "But I'm not being manipulative. There's a lot of ways to interpret things. That's the way life is."

-- Judy Cantor

William Cordova's work is on view through May 22 at Ambrosino Gallery, 3095 SW 39th Ave. Admission is free. Call 305-445-2211.

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Judy Cantor