Art: Ten years gone

21c presents ‘Alter Ego’ exhibit by Anthony Goicolea

Nine years ago, I stumbled across a few of Anthony Goicolea’s photographs. Highly saturated and theatrical, Goicolea duplicates his own image, populating scenes with hordes of himself. In one, “Feastlings,” a dinner party is ransacked. In another, a panorama of young men hold farm implements and play-fight behind the menacing stares of those in the foreground. Goicolea is a good actor. And after seeing so many other photographs, I can still pull up those first sightings in my memory.

So, of course, I was excited to hear that “Alter Ego,” an exhibition of Goicolea’s work throughout the past 10 years, is on view at 21c Museum Hotel.

Filled with drawing, painting, sculpture and video — as well as photography — it’s clear Goicolea has trudged a path to maturity that many know well. He’s moved from gangs of like-minded friends to family and, finally, to philosophical questions.

In hindsight, I can see how I related Goicolea’s early photographs to my own life. As we move from childhood to adulthood, we populate our lives with others like ourselves — people who are the same age and have the same interests. Groups repulse us, yet we create them. Despite Goicolea’s images being frightening, they are also appealing. It’s a group you hate, partially because you can’t belong.

As Goicolea’s work moves away from self-portraits into drawing and toward explorations of his own family, I think about how we mature out of cliques, becoming increasingly interested in our ancestry.

Drawing his relatives from photographs, Goicolea composes portraits in the negative. Some of these drawings are then inverted, making a photographic positive of his drawn negative. The results bring to mind reproductions in art, as well as the distance of family, both physical — much of Goicolea’s family’s life took place in Cuba — and emotional, as everyone strives to be an individual yet is bound to their lineage.

Compelling and haunting, the images remind us of how dependent we are on photographs to connect the dots of our past, even though images are seldom representations of truth. By studying them, drawing them and then printing those drawings back into photographs, Goicolea shows a technical expertise and makes visual our universal desire to direct our personal lives.

As his drawings and paintings have evolved, Goicolea hasn’t abandoned photography. Some of his more recent work, done without himself or models, pulls free of self-examination, beyond family, to an investigation of the world around us. In “Siamese Twins,” two bombed-out cars overflow with fresh, colorful food; in “Island,” a frozen neverland is tagged with flags. There is a similarity to his self-portraits through a strong sense of composition. The red cape he dons in photos and videos punctuates the frame perfectly, giving the eye the right spot to follow. Red leaves in “Siamese Twins” and red flags in “Island” serve similar purposes.

There are also digitally manipulated black-and-white scenes, seamlessly stitching together fictitious places. Viewing huge prints of layered smokestacks, or standing water with cliffs and power lines (another recurrent theme and compositional tool), you can almost smell the decay, the changing wind, the crumbled brick. Fantastical and off-kilter — the perspectives don’t always line up — they feel futuristic yet anchored in a bygone era. Like the digital manipulation in his early work, the composites put opposing forces together. In multiplying himself, Goicolea’s image is attractive yet creepy. The landscapes are idyllic but gritty.

This incongruity is also present in a snowed-over skate ramp in the beginning of the exhibition. The action of the installation has disappeared. Leafless trees jut through rotten boards. Graffiti tags have been abandoned. But the hum of skaters, long gone, is heard around the piece. It brings forth memories, even if they’re of stories you’ve only heard, rather than the life you’ve lived.

Much of Goicolea’s work is male-focused, and is sometimes homoerotic, but it still taps into a universal arch of the human experience. We all wrestle with our relationship to nature. It is common to carry a strange attraction to our own youth, and within that examination, to analyze our own families. These are shared experiences, and rather than be theoretical and tricky, Goicolea utilizes expertise and style to access these emotional connections.

“Alter Ego” is rich with story and skill. It’s fantasy at its best.

‘Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea’
Through July 15
21c Museum Hotel
700 W. Main St. • 217-6300