ABOUT THE ARTIST
Mario Ybarra, Jr. is a Los Angeles-based artist who creates artworks that he considers forms of portraiture and landscape. Founder of the art collective Slanguage, Ybarra draws inspiration from southern California's unique mix of inhabitants, history, and street culture for his large-scale multi-media installations and public performances. His artworks not only reflect his experience as a Mexican-American resident of Los Angeles, but also consider the Mestizaje or racial/cultural mixing found in other parts of the world.
Ybarra received his MFA from University of California, Irvine, in 2001. He has had solo exhibitions at Brown Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2009); Bob Van Orsouw, Zurich, Switzerland (2008); and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, New York (2008). His work has been included in many group exhibitions, including Installations Inside/Out: Armory 20th Anniversary Exhibition, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, California (2009); San Juan Poly/Graphic Triennial of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan, Puerto Rico (2009); Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California (2008); and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York (2008).
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
For his exhibition at Artpace, Silver and Blacks, Mario Ybarra, Jr. created a series of monochromatic works on paper constrained by a self-imposed set of rules. The artist chose to produce drawings on paper utilizing only silver, black, and white. His drawing tools were simplified to only include markers, inks, and aerosol paint. Ybarra described the process as entering "batting cages," the idea being to limit logical planning and just react to the parameters in place. The result is an installation filled with both abstract and figurative works showcasing Ybarra's distinct calligraphic handwriting.
There are three sections of works in Ybarra's exhibition. Shawna, Kimberly, and Donna is the first part to greet viewers, as it is positioned on the wall facing the entrance. These cartoon line drawings on silver painted cardboard depict three topless women based on a rap song by the artist's friend MC Spew. Adjacent to the mural-like drawing are groups of framed ink-on-paper caricature portraits, S.A. to L.A., featuring masked figures, skulls, and multi-headed beings. Adjacent to the framed portraits is a series of eighteen gestural graffiti drawings titled Space Tags, which break down into three distinct subgroups.
The characters are partly inspired by Ybarra's year-long examination of the life and work of Walt Disney; especially Disney's early black-and-white films that feature Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. Ybarra developed a non-linear narrative based on his own cast of characters. The drawings also evoke the hand-painted advertisements for flowers, piñatas, and tire shops that the artist encountered on North Flores Avenue and the west side of San Antonio during his residency.
The gregarious Ybarra explained that he is a keen observer of his environment. He pays close attention to the personal possessions and fashion details that make up individual identities and often incorporates them into his work. Many times he expresses this idea of portraiture through anthropological installations. Works like Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum Machine (2005) and For All I Know He Had My Friend Angel Killed (2005) were exhibitions in which objects from personal collections became surrogates for the identities of close acquaintances. By contrast, Ybarra's drawings in Silver and Blacks are an amalgamation of actual individuals he encountered in San Antonio, like cowboys and kids with skateboards, combined with images and memories from past experiences.
Ybarra's time at Artpace was an opportunity for reflection; a time to purge details and memories onto paper; and a favorable time to create his first works-on-paper exhibition as a mature artist. By merging observation with memory, Ybarra's works in Silver and Blacks show the strategies one may use to orient themselves and make meaning in a new environment.