The first time I saw Vasquez’ work was at a show in the National Portrait Gallery in 2014, I thought the stuff was terrific. When OMA ran the show 2016 Florida Prize in Contemporary Art, I was pleased to see more of his work. It is large portraiture, very well painted, but arresting. Allure was one of the words used to describe his work, I just lifted it. The work, obviously, based upon photos first, nonetheless, makes color and form precise. Take a look at the color red, especially near the denim paints, in 275 North – OZ and Red below. Here is a guy who understands Rubens.
His technique, while photorealistic, is in the Close vein, but with an understanding of Pollack. The use of the modern photo with the finish, would be an interesting thing to see. Remember, Degas also was interested in the photo, shot photos, and in turn had a definitive effect on photographers. Here in Zombies, surfaces close up, are affected, but very well done. The guy understands paint, both as a wet drawing medium, but for color as well. It is like he studied up and close Delacroix brushwork in which one color visually from a distance, is can be up to three colors with specific pattern to brushstrokes.
The composition is Zombies, really is that good, he shoved the 4 principles into the upper right hand corner. The arm of one gang member stretches across, in a rich staccato of color The shirt of the member with the gun, is a cartoon full of rich images. The faces are modelled beautifully, once again use of paint and value. The color blends across the faces. He even blots out one of the faces, with the show of gang symbols, we have come to expect. He is post-Kehinde Wiley, in some respect, but the faces here in Zombies are powerful portraits. The gun makes it seem even more eerie.
The figures of War and Peace in Little Haiti (Rodd, Rick and James) work beautifully with the background he has created. While the background is less subdued, the faces of the figures are more subdued. As in Zombies, the hands are beautifully done, these are not the hands of warriors or athletes, these are hands of the average young men, The light coming in from the right beautifully brings up both faces and the hand gestures. Again the figure in the foreground seems to be drenched with paint.
I wanted to put these up in school during Hispanic Heritage Month, but figured I would be blasted down by some of the parents, not for ethnic reasons. The gun in Zombies would be the first no-no. These are beautiful, powerful images that Vasquez has created, and haunting in their content. But as portraits, he has immortalized groups of people some would not want to recognize. In a way Vasquez, is the Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans or Gordon Parks of our time. He is preserving a segment of the population we need to remember, to face later, in a more benign time.