Honor Fraser Gallery presents Heroes and Villians, Mario Ybarra Jr.’s second solo exhibition with the gallery.
Ybarra’s new work takes the form of a large-scale comic strip and filters his teenage years through a lens of retro ludic amusement and play. With this work Ybarra aims at celebrating and participating in the channels of communication of popular culture, while employing a playful practice that transgresses into that of higher culture. For Ybarra, play becomes a strategy for occupying and contesting territories in pursuit of establishing an advantage. He focuses on moments when popular culture becomes more relevant than other cultural products and manifestations, moments when popular culture provides an alternative perspective, provokes change, or allows the masses to have the “last say.” Likewise, he positively acknowledges the way these messages are communicated (visually and materially) and utilizes them to occupy more expansive (art) territory.
Heroes and Villians (notice the word “villain” misspelled to match the Latino pronunciation of the word) also explores how popular culture (toys, movies, souvenirs, crafts, music, comics) is appropriated by the Latino community. Latinos in the United States have the opportunity to navigate, consume, and identify with the popular culture produced in the US as well as that of their cultural heritage. In Ybarra’s case, the result is a cohesive mixture, manifesting in a series of drawings that represent the unlikely friendship of several teenagers in the late 1980s. Ybarra is keen on presenting the hobbies, pastimes and habits of his youth, focusing on cultural specific traits such as the homemade Latino sweets that include “paprika, Kool-aid powder and dipping candy,” or baking a cake with his grandfather (as intergenerational households are typical in Latino families), or hinting at the absence of the father figure (possibly represented by the character in prison depicted on the first page). Other popular culture references such as E.T. and Hawaii 84 T-shirts and Doritos chips provide a context that is at once American and global. Ultimately, Ybarra presents a narrative with a happy ending where respect for the “other” and empathy prevail. The comic format is the controlled framework and terrain Ybarra chooses to play out the struggles, conflicts and contradictions of growing up in his hometown of Wilmington, CA.
Mario Ybarra Jr. (b. 1973) 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 at Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles; Mario Ybarra Jr.: The Tio Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara; 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. He organized Possible Worlds at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in collaboration with Karla Diaz and Slanguage Studio.