Javier Piñón, Don Quixote #4, 2007, collage, 26×48 inches. Courtesy of ZieherSmith.
In his latest exhibition, Don Quixote and other stories, Javier Piñón focuses his meticulous collaging techniques and surrealist sensibility on classic accounts of religion, mythology, and literature. Whereas his previous work featured absurdist obstacle courses of antique chairs and chandeliers, his new visions are equally fantastic, yet find basis in historical narrative. Piñón has remained preoccupied with the cowboy, long his stand-in for the universal man, and recasts this protagonist in the legends of heroes, martyrs, and gods. Set in the plains and deserts of the American West, these mythic struggles take on a dusty, contemporary resonance.
Some of the works reference a range of visual precedents, from classic images such as Andrea Mantegna’s St. Sebastian to pop-culture cult icons like Ray Harryhausen’s early 80’s animation for the film, Clash of the Titans. Piñón fleshes out these compositional cues and inserts them into his nostalgic backdrops. He unites the compositions in palette and tone with snippets carefully culled from mid-century American regional magazines like Arizona Highways. One piece, Odysseus, references both Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa and Piñón’s own previous body of work, as the wandering hero’s vessel is pieced together from Chippendale chairs.
With a 1960s vintage Western vernacular, the pieces are discrete, Americanized visions of great epics from the European canon. By working with this range of subjects, Piñón engages a Joseph Campbell inspired dialogue regarding the endless varieties of the “monomyth” and “the hero with a thousand faces.”
Though born in Miami to Cuban parents, the artist was raised in Houston, Texas where he became engrossed with the ideals and expectations of the American cowboy. His work can also be seen currently in El Museo del Barrio’s Bienal and will be included in the 2008 Beijing Biennale.