For his exhibition at Artpace, Silver and Blacks, Mario Ybarra, Jr. created a series of monochromatic works on paper constrained by a self-imposed set of rules. The artist chose to produce drawings on paper utilizing only silver, black, and white. His drawing tools were simplified to only include markers, inks, and aerosol paint. Ybarra described the process as entering “batting cages,” the idea being to limit logical planning and just react to the parameters in place. The result is an installation filled with both abstract and figurative works showcasing Ybarra’s distinct calligraphic handwriting.
There are three sections of works in Ybarra’s exhibition. Shawna, Kimberly, and Donna is the first part to greet viewers, as it is positioned on the wall facing the entrance. These cartoon line drawings on silver painted cardboard depict three topless women based on a rap song by the artist’s friend MC Spew. Adjacent to the mural-like drawing are groups of framed ink-on-paper caricature portraits, S.A. to L.A., featuring masked figures, skulls, and multi-headed beings. Adjacent to the framed portraits is a series of eighteen gestural graffiti drawings titled Space Tags, which break down into three distinct subgroups.
The characters are partly inspired by Ybarra’s year-long examination of the life and work of Walt Disney; especially Disney’s early black-and-white films that feature Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse. Ybarra developed a non-linear narrative based on his own cast of characters. The drawings also evoke the hand-painted advertisements for flowers, piñatas, and tire shops that the artist encountered on North Flores Avenue and the west side of San Antonio during his residency.
The gregarious Ybarra explained that he is a keen observer of his environment. He pays close attention to the personal possessions and fashion details that make up individual identities and often incorporates them into his work. Many times he expresses this idea of portraiture through anthropological installations. Works like Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum Machine (2005) and For All I Know He Had My Friend Angel Killed (2005) were exhibitions in which objects from personal collections became surrogates for the identities of close acquaintances. By contrast, Ybarra’s drawings in Silver and Blacks are an amalgamation of actual individuals he encountered in San Antonio, like cowboys and kids with skateboards, combined with images and memories from past experiences.
Ybarra’s time at Artpace was an opportunity for reflection; a time to purge details and memories onto paper; and a favorable time to create his first works-on-paper exhibition as a mature artist. By merging observation with memory, Ybarra’s works in Silver and Blacks show the strategies one may use to orient themselves and make meaning in a new environment.
–Alexander Freeman, Education Curator