In “Competing with Lightning,” Eamon Ore-Giron summons surreal scenes, gods, and gold


Eamon Ore-Giron’s solo show at the Contemporary Austin — curated by Miranda Lash of MCA Denver and organized in Austin by assistant curator Julie Le — fills the first and second floors of the Jones Center. The exhibition is arranged by three major time periods from the artist’s practice. Each is distinct, draws from the artist’s personal experiences of cultural hybridity, and shows a breadth of experimentation.

On view downstairs, Ore-Giron’s early works (1998-2005) are the most figurative. Overlaying scenes from Tucson and Peru, the two places where he spent the most time as a child, these paintings feature surrealist dreamscapes engaged with postcolonial cultural practices. Flat planes of color and simplified figures contribute to the scenes’ otherworldly yet whimsical nature. “A Nice Dinner” (1998), for example, depicts a family enjoying restaurant meal, yet details of the setting remain incomplete, and light fixtures hover overhead. Such simplification frames the event as a memory or a dream.

Eamon Ore-Giron
Eamon Ore-Giron, ‘Cookin’ 2,” from 2002. Latex acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches.

In one pairing, “Cookin’ 1” and “Cookin’ 2” (2002), women prepare humitas, a South American variation on the tamale. Both scenes are based on sketches of the artist’s aunt and cousin, the women rendered as giantesses, their upper bodies standing among the clouds. And in a surrealist use of texture, the older of the two women wears a sweater made of dried cactus wood. The most striking difference between the two scenes is that in “1,” the women have fair skin and blonde hair, and in “2,” they have brown skin and hair. Experimenting with his own family’s features and their associations with identity and indigeneity, Ore-Giron reflects on his heritage as a Peruvian-Irish-American from the Southwest, and the interactions, adaptations and appropriations that occur between cultures in the Southwest.

Other paintings embrace horror and humor to complicate identity and post-colonial power relations. In “Sueño Huamanguino” (2005), a painting of dancers performing the Chonguinada, a satire of Spanish minuets and quadrilles dramatizing intermarriage between Indigenous women and Spanish noblemen, masks merge with faces to create spooky four-eyed figures with bloody mouths. A man in a slashed up polar bear costume is also part of this reimagined celebration. This celebratory event blending Spanish colonial and Indigenous cultures while mocking the Spanish is cause for unease under Ore-Giron’s brush. Meanwhile, “Homeland Defense” (2003) depicts an aircraft carrier made of adobe and sticks, Pueblo building materials. It’s a wry, farcical image that links U.S. encroachment on native lands and ongoing militarized imperialism.

Upstairs, Ore-Giron’s “Talking Shit” series, which he began while living in Mexico in 2017, combines bright colors with angular, fantastical abstractions that reference Aztec deities. He creates a figurative style that blends modernist abstraction and Russian Suprematism with pre-Columbian Latin American sculptural sources — it’s as if Kandinsky painted Coatlicue and Quetzalcoatl. Arranged as if on grids, even serpent gods have a kind of order, but the Indigenous and painterly influences are given equal emphasis in the compositions, subtly subverting Eurocentric art history narratives about the origins of abstraction.

But not all the paintings in this section depict abstracted gods. “Sky memory” (2017) references the Southern Cross, a constellation most easily viewed from the Southern hemisphere. The abstract painting is rendered in electric green and goldenrod. Divided on an “equatorial axis” into balanced, but not symmetrical Northern and Southern hemispheres, the curves and lines seem ready to pivot on joint-like shapes at either end of the horizon.

Eamon Ore-Giron
Installation view, Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning / Rivalizando con el relámpago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, 2022. Artwork © Eamon Ore-Giron. Courtesy the artist and James Cohan, New York. Image courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver. Photograph by Wes Magyar.

Then, from deep in the second floor, the exhibition’s final room glistens with large-scale golden paintings, beckoning visitors to experience the sublime. These paintings are from the artist’s “Infinite Regress” series, begun in 2015, and are entirely abstract, with patterns of circles and bars evoking the phases of the moon, planetary orbits, pendulums, the stepped patterns of Andean pyramids, and rays of sunlight. The gold Flashe paint that dominates the compositions references Incan and pre-Incan jewelry and the material’s significance in the Americas across time, from ritual to economic objects.

There’s something peaceful about the “Infinite Regress” pictures. It comes through in their color palettes, which vary from muted greens to purples that complement the gold. But mostly, it is achieved by the paintings’ physically large scales and large scale views of time. Their vanishing points are places where, in the words of the artist, “future, past, and present meet.” The pendulum shapes most visible in “CLXXXIV” (2021), alongside its sunrise-like bars of light, give the painting a sense of rhythm, a tool with which Ore-Giron is familiar as a musician and DJ in addition to his work as a painter.

These newer works are the highlight of the show, and are part of the series for which Ore-Giron is best known. Nevertheless, as a mid-career retrospective, “Competing with Lightening” reveals a striking breadth and invention in Ore-Giron’s body of work, and highlights his specific connection to the Americas, making it visible in each of the three styles exhibited. While the focus on neatly defined time periods effectively hides some of Ore-Giron’s experimentation between 2005 and 2017, a gap from which no paintings are shown, the exhibition demonstrates that for Ore-Giron, the Americas are a complex, not easily labeled source of inspiration.

‘Eamon Ore-Giron: Competing with Lightning / Rivalizando con el relámpago’ is on view through Aug. 20 at the Contemporary Austin, Jones Center, 700 Congress Ave.. The artist will discuss his work during a public event at 6 p.m. on April 27.

Courtney Thomas
Courtney Thomas
Courtney Thomas is an Austin-based writer interested in the intersection of art and politics. In 2022, she graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a BA in Theatre and Dance and a BA in Humanities.

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