I awoke one morning to discover my cell phone missing. I dialed the number from my home phone, and, to my relief, a man named Rudy answered and explained that he’d found my cell. We arranged to meet at the Las Vegas Club. Conveniently, since Tinoco’s Kitchen moved from the Arts Factory to that very Downtown casino, I’d been meaning to stop in to check out its art display—the work comes from a local collector known for his marvelous, eclectic taste.
Rudy was waiting for me in valet parking and accepted my offer to take him to breakfast. After walking through a casino without even the pretext of décor, entering Tinoco’s was like being hit with a shock wave—vibrant paintings and graphically stunning photographs were everywhere. Was Rudy impressed? How about the other tourists and inveterate gamblers? What did they think of KD Matheson’s voluptuous heads with large fetishized lips? Or “Iman,” my favorite, whose gleaming, dark-purple profile is stretched and distorted into a vase-like shape and whose metallic sheen and hinged jaw combine the mechanistic and primitive? Or Roy Thomas’ mixed-media paintings in which creatures resembling larval-stage insects parody the human need to connect? Or the most poignant, “Hand Holding,” depicting parent and child in a playground, where the parent, in keeping with the theme of metamorphosis, is transformed into a slide? Or Kevin Chupik’s collage painting “Angelina,” whose face is clearly a tender portrait but whose body is segmented and disconnected like that of a mannequin? Or a vintage postcard and corroded wallpaper signaling nostalgia and disappointment as well as love?
Rudy wanted to know why the artists distorted the human figure and made it ugly. A complex question with a complex answer. Most would agree it started with photography, which usurped fine art’s role as representor of optical or factual reality. Artists were challenged but also liberated. They could depict an emotional reality: If lips turned them on, then they could make them as big as they liked; if life felt disjointed, they could tear the body apart; if human society was their bag, they could depict it metaphorically as an insect colony. Most importantly, they were free to use color, line and form to create a new aesthetic, not a facsimile of reality.
Another question: Will those who care about Downtown and crave a vibrant art scene support Tinoco’s venture? I’d love to see another venue for artists to display and sell their work, so that people who might never go to a gallery or museum can still be exposed to soulful art.