Ways of Seeing, According to Roberto Gil de Montes

Temporada de lluvias is Roberto Gil de Montes’s first solo show at Kurimanzutto gallery in Mexico City. His serene figurative paintings explore how the effects of the rainy season in La Peñita, a small fishing town in Nayarit, Mexico, can radically alter how we see water, figuration, a flat surface, and figments of local Huichol iconography in the tropics. Gil de Montes’s works were also featured in the Biennale de Venezia’s The Milk of Dreams exhibition recently, giving a distinctly queer, Chicano depiction of Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” (1486) in his painting “El Pescador” (2020), where a young Brown fisherman is seen reclining in a giant floating shell within a sea of otherworldly, pre-Columbian symbolism. 

Most of the oil paintings in Temporada de lluvias use hues of blue, brown, and green to capture the shape of water after torrential rain, floating at sea, running through a river, and submerging or framing a human form in a static horizontal pose. In “Contra Mar” (2022) for instance, included in the exhibition catalogue, what looks like a bright blue bay of water circles the tiny patch of land where a calm topless figure is lying sideways like a cardboard cutout in the deserted lush green jungle that surrounds him. There’s something quite ethereal about this image, the young man’s face looking calm and deadpan as the sea water in the foreground cuts through him.

Roberto Gil de Montes, installation view of Temporada de Lluvias at Kurimanzutto, Mexico City (2022); “Boca Chica” (2022), oil on linen

The men and boys in Gil de Montes’s works are almost always still, in frontal view, and staring out at viewers with a soft poignant gaze. They appear realistic in form but their function within the broader landscape almost always feels disjointed, like misfits on the flat picture plane. At first glance, the human body, and all that surrounds it, may appear two dimensional, but soon this turns into a rippling abstraction that’s submerged under water. For “Echo Park” (2022) and “San Sebastián del trópico” (2022), the artist dexterously uses light and shade to stretch the possibilities of figuration on a flat surface. 

The body of work also draws from Huichol iconography to paint a more fantastical picture.  For example, in “Días de Lluvia” (2022), we see floating busts strapped in deer head motifs as if the Huichol were summoning their gods for protection. Living in Nayarit has brought the artist into contact with Huichol men selling their seasonal yarn paintings and beadworks, and, presumably, supernatural ways of imagining what it means to be human.

The show feels quite unsettling, like walking a tightrope between life and death, fact and fiction, the figurative and the abstract, where nothing on the canvas wholly captures what it means to belong on land or at sea. More so for a Mexican-American artist who, after over 20 years of living here again, is still grappling with the many ways of seeing that this small fishing town in Nayarit has to offer. 

Roberto Gil de Montes, “Owl” (2022), oil on linen
Roberto Gil de Montes, “San Sebastián del trópico” (2022), oil on linen
Roberto Gil de Montes, “Contra Mar” (2022), oil on linen

Temporada de lluvias continues at Kurimanzutto (Mexico City) through December 15, 2022. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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