The gallery space on the second floor of the Mansfield-Richland County Public Library is becoming one of the most exciting exhibition spaces in Mansfield. It’s the perfect size for solo-shows and there is an informal quality to the space that, I think, allows artists to relax and take chances creatively that they would not be inclined to take in a traditional gallery. Of course, when artists begin to take chances, moving beyond their established styles and familiar materials, they risk producing work that feels half-thought or unfinished. I’m an advocate of half-thought and unfinished, because the purpose of art is to lead us—maker and dilettante alike—ever-onward into the unexpressed (inexpressible?) realms of experience. Let the designers and decorators settle for comfortable, known forms.
In this space Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz has arranged the ‘optical/poetic’ portraits of twenty-two people that ‘inhabit’ his heart. There are eighteen photographs, three paintings, and one sculpture. The risk here is that the personal nature of the work leaves Diaz extremely vulnerable. These portraits disrobe Diaz’s relationships of all their exoteric trappings, bringing the essential live-wire of intimacy under the public’s gaze. Diaz must walk a fine line to retain the power and eccentricity of these portraits, while not losing the viewer’s interest in the highly personal sentiments. Luckily, Diaz has guts and a subtle step; the risk has paid off.
The piece “Aurelio’s Brother” was the high point of the show for me. The photo and poem both seem to carry the same weight and work together to express the dual tough/sensitive nature of his brother. But deeper, I think what I love is that I can see Diaz’s looks in his brother’s face and I can’t image a less likely place to spot him than in this burly man with a barbed-wire tattoo. With all of Diaz’s lingo, the poem is not easy:
When aspirations of greening it up for the U.S of A
got mechanically ruptured in a sickening, halting twist
u could have packed up your testosterone & exiled entirely
to a headbangers ball of tawny’s dancing on hoods of hotrods.
That would’ve been pointless though
Because throughout life your name embodied possessive noun
more so than adjective
& that not only makes you a man, it makes u a father who transcends
that which was absent during formative years.
With the expansion of your bloodline
soon entered soft smile tinged with charity.
With soft smile & charity came unconscious surrender
of retiring possessive noun
so that the pressure can be resumed by a needy soul
who will one day be contently fulfilled as u are now.
Despite the initial difficulties, the love and respect for his brother is straightforward. The honest emotion expressed in the work makes it feel deceptively accessible. It draws me in until I believe I understand Diaz completely and then he pummels me with a phrase like “exiled entirely to a headbanger’s ball of Tawnys dancing on hoods of hotrods,” which feels thoroughly Hispanic. As a white boy from Loudonville, Ohio, I do not entirely understand the lingo or the world gestured at in that line, but it is this ‘otherness’ that intrigues me about Diaz’s work. Phrases like this seem distilled from a thousand cultural and racial identities. This is the power of his work; he seems to walk the borders between ethnicities and marginal groups. Diaz seems to have a foot inside of them all, without fully inhabiting any.
In his poetry Diaz doesn’t seem concerned with portraying environment or action in any highly visual, palpable, or experiential way—the way a fiction writer might create a world. Instead, he delivers action and environment obliquely through the eccentric turns of phrase discussed above (Consider the lines “When aspirations of greening it up for the U.S of A / got mechanically ruptured in a sickening, halting twist,” which seems to suggest a car wreck or similar accident ruined his brother’s plans to enter the Army, but never directly confirms it). In this way the poems are specific and abstract. I’m never sure what is concrete and what is symbolic. I have the sensation of not so much entering into the poems, as floating over their surfaces, watching the shimmering effects of his personalized language.
There are instances where Diaz may push the subjectivity of his language too far. Consider these lines from his piece “B-B-Beard on a Guy Like U Nails the Door Shut”:
B-B-Beard on a guy like u
& B-B-Brontosaurus for a gal like her
Is a bed-in for exaltation of exoskeleton
Here I get the feeling I’m third party to an inside joke, and grow a little embarrassed for my sudden isolation after being nearly in tears from the work that came before. I’m not sure where the defect lies. Perhaps it’s because this poem is paired with a child-like painting of a bearded man and a brontosaurus. Though the painting has significant outsider-art charm, it does not seem to operate with the same intensity and earnestness as the photo/poem portraits. There are equally difficult verses in the photo/poem portraits, but the obscurity of the difficult verses feels thoroughly anchored in the reality of the photographs. In these pieces, if a verse defies our translation we can at least look at the photograph and imagine the spark of recognition in the subject’s eyes. To be fair, while I feel that “B-B-Beard On A Guy Like U Nails the Door Shut” and the other painting/poems are of a different body of work and belong in their own show altogether, they do possess a lovely, playful quality that delights me.
If you like gritty, home-grown art, and a refreshingly exotic poetic voice then this is the show for you. Time-Capsulation of My Heart’s Inhabitants: an Optical/Poetic Homage will be on display through July. I urge you to spend some time with Diaz’s work; it’s one of the most moving shows I’ve seen in Mansfield.
Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz’s work as a performance artist, photographer, and poet have garnered him recognition throughout Ohio. Some of his accomplishments include photography featured in the Mansfield Art Center‘s statewide, juried 2012 and 2013 May Show. Diaz is a recipient of the 2011 and 2012 Mansfield-Richland Public Library’s Armchair Poetry Contest.
Diaz’s experience as a professional artist continually informs his other passion; working with individuals with developmental disabilities. He is the founder and choreographer for the Richland Newhope Dance Troupe comprised of adults with developmental disabilities who perform throughout Ohio. Diaz was also instrumental in the conception and development of the Element of Art Studio/Gallery in downtown Mansfield, Ohio. The gallery showcases and sells art created by artists with developmental disabilities.
Diaz has an upcoming show titled “Putney,” which will be featured in the NIABOS Gallery in Mansfield in October. Diaz is also a Creative Consultant at FthreeO Productions based in Columbus, Ohio, and choreographs Hip/Hop dance routines for the Rising Starz Dance Studio in Mansfield, Ohio.
Visit www.aureliovillalunadiaz.com to see more of his work.