Honor Fraser is pleased to present Double Feature, a solo exhibition by Wilmington, California based artist Mario Ybarra Jr. This is his first exhibition with the gallery.
Over the past decade, Ybarra has developed a practice centered around storytelling. With an eye and ear for the elements of an engaging narrative, accompanied by healthy doses of wit, Ybarra crafts portraits of people, places and communities that are resonant and universal while rooted in the specific. Using the objects and materials that he finds around him and his subjects, he translates personal stories into resonant and multilayered installations that seamlessly blend the languages of art and life. Often, the installations relate the overlooked or unacknowledged; particularly, the lives and dreams of his family, childhood friends, and colorful personalities that make up his community. He makes connections to these local tales for global audiences far from Wilmington, often by relating these individual stories refracted through lenses such as mass media and popular culture.
Double Feature consists of two projects that cull portraits from iconic Hollywood films, mining this deep repository for our collective fantasies. In Universal Monsters, Ybarra finds inspiration in a series of classic horror/sci-fi films produced by Universal Studios in the 1920s-1960s for a series of self-portraits. Simultaneously playful and disarmingly revealing, these works are a psychologically rich exploration of the persona of the artist. Imagining versions of himself filtered through the lens of the creatures of the Universal stable, Ybarra’s multimedia renderings of id build upon our own relationships with these celluloid nightmares.
Ybarra’s ceramic busts of the artist as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, rendered in fragile porcelain in stark black and white, depict the divided self in literal and comical terms. A portrait of the artist as the Creature from the Black Lagoon depicts him as a primal shamanic character at home in the wilderness. As the Invisible Man, Ybarra appears and disappears, reinhabiting a favorite childhood Halloween costume while expressing kinship as a Latino with Ellison’s landmark novel exploring the social invisibility of African Americans. And in his renderings of Frankenstein, Ybarra playfully draws a physical parallel between his own brow and one of the most famous features of the legendary monster.
In the north gallery, Ybarra screens a video inspired by two of his favorite childhood media moments: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and An American Werewolf in London. Creating a quintessential monster video, the artist quite literally explores the process of transformation while exploring the cinematic possibilities of the peculiar architecture of Los Angeles. The video, shot on a pedestrian bridge above the Harbor Freeway near Wilmington, casts the stream of cars as a torrential river, creating an urban wilderness.
Collectively, the project is a psychological self-portrait of the artist. Ybarra is ultimately fascinated with these fables as ideal vehicles to tell personal stories; the cumulative effect of these paintings, sculptures and video is one in which we connect with the primal universality of these stories of transformation. One can see this series of works in relation to one of his earliest photographic series, Go Tell It, which plays upon activist iconography and politicized self-portraiture; in Universal Monsters, his body makes a reappearance to again explore the political, social and psychological aspects of self-representation and social projection.
In the south gallery, Ybarra reprises the Scarface Museum. This project began in 2005 with a series of performances at Art Basel Miami in which Ybarra staged reenactments and readings from Brian De Palma’s 1983 film Scarface in the neighborhood where the movie took place. Some of the tour attendees referred to the Tony Montana character as “Santo Scarface.” This inspired the Museum, shown as a fully realized installation in 2008 at the Whitney Biennial, which can be seen as a series of Scarface relics and reliquaries playing upon the conventions of collecting, archiving and curating. Cases filled with jackets, lamps, sneakers, videos, statues and countless other objects are carefully displayed according to museological methodology. These projects originally were inspired by Ybarra’s childhood friend, Angel Montes Jr., who was imprisoned for dealing drugs and looked to the Tony Montana character as a hero. He is a devoted collector of the movie’s memorabilia, from which all the Museum’s material is drawn. Here, as in Universal Monsters, cinematic icons and popular culture become a vehicle for personal storytelling that produces unexpected, intimate inroads and relationships between viewers and subjects. One can look at the Monsters and the Museum as wry, engaging, and ultimately politicized lenses on the excesses and uncontainability of cinema and popular culture in general as it circulates through individual lives and accrues unforeseen narrative resonances.
This piece represents the second part of a projected trilogy of portraits of his Wilmington community, which began with an exploration of Reggie the Alligator (a now legendary story of an alligator living in South Bay parks for years eluding capture). This series of projects really addresses the way that legends and fables are constructed and the roles that they play in cementing and communicating a sense of community.
Mario Ybarra Jr. (b. 1972) lives and works in Wilmington, CA. He received an MFA from the University of California at Irvine and a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Recent solo exhibitions include Double Feature, currently on view at Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles; Mario Ybarra Jr.: The Tio Collection at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum; Wilmington Good at Cardi Black Box in Milan, Italy; Silver and Blacks at Michael Janssen Gallery, Berlin; and Take Me Out…No Man Is An Island at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ybarra was included in the recent Made in L.A., organized by the Hammer Museum and LAXART, Los Angeles; Invisible Cities at the Instituto Cervantes in Madrid, Spain; the 2008 Whitney Biennial in New York; The World as a Stage at the Tate Modern in London and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the 2006 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, CA; and Alien Nation at the Institute of Contemporary Art London. Ybarra was one of the founding members of the collective Slanguage, a socially engaged group of artists that comingles art education, community building and the production of interactive exhibition and performance projects. He organized Possible Worlds at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in collaboration with Karla Diaz and Slanguage Studio. Ybarra is the recent recipient of a Levitt fellowship at Williams College in Massachussetts; a residency at Artpace in San Antonio, TX; and, in 2011, was the artist-in-residence at the Arhus Kunstbygning Centre for Contemporary Art in Denmark.