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Growing up in various parts of Texas, artist Carlos Rosales-Silva had to reconcile his own identity half Mexican, half American Indian with that of his larger-than-life state.
"Texas history is all about mythmaking," said Rosales-Silva, 30, who's in Utah this month with an art exhibit on wheels in the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art's Art Truck.
Rosales-Silva and Jared Steffensen, curator of education for UMOCA, were just preparing the museum-white walls of the Art Truck on Wednesday morning. But the artist assured me that his exhibit will be up and ready by Friday, Sept. 7, in time for its unveiling at UMOCA's First Friday event. (See box for details.)
Rosales-Silva, who is now living in New York but will forever associate himself with Texas, aims to examine identity issues of race and class and "filter them through formal art movements." He lists as examples Op Art (think Bauhaus) and Abstract Expressionism (Mark Rothko and others), as well as popular culture iconography.
"Basically, I try to get as confused as possible," Rosales-Silva said.
Take, for example, his "Texas Comanches" banner. It's a large red-and-white banner like one you would see in any high-school gymnasium. But this one reads, "Texas Comanches, State Champions, 1747-1865," the dates indicating how long the Comanches roamed Texas before white settlers ultimately defeated the native population.
"A lot of my things have a sense of humor," Rosales-Silva said. "It's laughing to keep from crying. If you can make people laugh, you can get their attention."
One of his signature pieces is a diptych called "Bringing Sexy Back," which juxtaposes two images to lampoon American Indian identity.
One image is a cheesy painting of a romanticized, sexualized American Indian, wearing a feather-adorned headband and a necklace of beads, along with an unbuttoned fringe-adorned white shirt that exposes 12-pack abs that fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey would envy.
Rosales-Silva says he found the painting which he calls "a romance-novel cover turned into a painting" at a dollar store in Austin. "A huge part of my process is shopping, which is embarrassing and very American," he said.
The other half of the work is a photo taken at the end of a performance-art event Rosales-Silva staged a couple of years ago at an Austin gallery. The photo shows him in the same pose and costume as the painting's buff model except that Rosales-Silva sports a full beard and a bit of a gut.
The Art Truck, Steffensen said, has already booked teaching sessions with four or five local schools, and UMOCA has created three lesson plans for students to incorporate Rosales-Silva's art into their assignments by exploring art movements, discussing the idea of borders (as the work often covers issues along the U.S./Mexico border) or allowing students to self-identify on definitions about racial, ethnic or class issues.
The Art Truck will be easy to identify as it drives around Salt Lake City: It will be wrapped in a 7-foot-high vinyl version of Rosales-Silva's "Bringing Sexy Back."
"My mother will be thrilled, I'm sure," Rosales-Silva said with a laugh.
UMOCA's 'First Friday'
Carlos Rosales-Silva's mobile exhibit will be unveiled at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art's First Friday event, and the artist will be on hand to take questions.
Where • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
When • Friday, Sept. 7, from 8 to 10 p.m.
Admission • Free
Also • "Abracadabra," a new exhibit by Salt Lake City artist Jason Metcalf that explores superstitions, will also open Friday in UMOCA's Locals Only Gallery.