Ed Saavedra: Things Have Gone to Pieces

G Gallery, Houston

Cameron Blaylock

Ed Saavedra, Fifteen Minutes After Lights Out (Bexar County Jail), 2011; painter's tape, Plexiglass, bed sheet, acrylic on canvas; 64 X 27 inches (figure), 36 X 1½ inches (noose); courtesy the artist and G Gallery, Houston; photo by Patrick Bresnan

Ed Saavedra’s solo exhibition at G Gallery, Things Have Gone to Pieces, includes undoubtedly visually compelling works. But a second viewing with title list in hand exposes the artist’s mastery for creating levels of meaning beyond immediately appealing craftsmanship. Saavedra’s works abound in humor and social commentary, and through his titles, he marries his concepts to his objects.

Things Have Gone to Pieces showcases the past three years of work by the San Antonio-based artist (and “Senior Creative Co-Conspirator” at San Antonio’s FL!GHT Gallery). The exhibition gathers together twenty-three works on G Gallery’s pine plywood walls, which nicely complement Saavedra’s makeshift aesthetic. On view is the artist’s usual mix of painting, collage, assemblage and, new to his practice, a limited-edition archival print series. Throughout, the works repurpose disparate and unconventional found images and discarded or broken materials—a fact seemingly emphasized by the exhibition title, one of Saavedra’s many clever turns of phrase.

A flowerpot sports the head of a Buddhist deity covered with a ski mask and cacti ears in the assemblage Big Bend Bonsai Bodhisattva (2011). Riot Shield (2009) consists of twelve rusted loaf pans hanging face down against the gallery wall. A painting of an iconic Egyptian statue of Ramses II with the face and sunglasses of jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis is titled Ramsey the Great (2009). The titles illuminate the artist’s sensibility for finding novel visual and linguistic associations in images and objects and creating unexpected meanings from their collision.

The works are more than visual puns or wordplay, though. Saavedra is a skilled naturalistic painter, and his work exhibits an impressive balancing act between chaos and order, absurdity and meaning, playfulness and gravity. His paintings and assemblages are simultaneously fey, charming and critically incisive.

Ed Saavedra, Riot Shield, 2009; antique bread pans, drywall screws, plywood; 12 X 24 X 4 inches; courtesy the artist and G Gallery, Houston; photo by Patrick Bresnan

Saavedra’s witty art targets contemporary American ills, such as rampant consumerism, waste, hunger and overdependence on medicine. The bottle-shaped canvas Recession Cola (2010), for instance, shows a baby being born into a twenty-ounce bottle of RC Cola. A seven-day pillbox hangs from the neck of the sculpture The Connoisseur (2011), and a stack of unused checkbooks forms the background in the collage Things to Remember/Things to Forget (2011). By using society's detritus as a primary art material, the artist seems to be offering not only conceptual but also material resistance.

Many of the works on view at G Gallery have appeared in past exhibitions where their social critique may have been more obvious. Two major paintings, Fifteen Minutes After Lights Out (Bexar County Jail) (2011) and Excuse Me While I Disappear (2011), are pieces cut out of one original canvas. Saavedra showed the pair in the site-specific installation Requiem for an English Major (2011) at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, which focused on the 2009 suicide of Harlan McVea in the Bexar County Jail in San Antonio. Before hanging himself with a bed sheet, McVea scrawled a suicide note with a mustard packet. At Blue Star Saavedra accompanied the paintings with a blue paint and mustard reproduction of a newspaper article about the suicide. At G Gallery, however, Saavedra placed the paintings in separate parts of the gallery amongst unrelated works. The pair acts as a divided centerpiece in this show, symbolically and literally displaying the central theme of things—Saavedra’s own work included—pointedly going to pieces.

Cameron Blaylock received a Diploma in Free Art from Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, and is Art Lies’ development intern.

This exhibition was on view from April 2–26, 2011.

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