Eyes wide up: “I have filled and emptied these eyes” shows the visual meditation Don Gregorio Anton’s retablos invoke.
calls his pieces “retablos.” The original retablos were large painted
screens behind the altars of Latin American churches. By the mid-1800s
the term more commonly referred to small folk paintings on rectangles
of tin that commemorated saints and martyrs. Handwritten captions
described the miracles depicted. Retablos were purchased by those
seeking aid from above. It gave them something tangible on which to
focus their intense devotion, prayers and petitions.
era also saw the dawn of the daguerreotype. This early photographic
method, developed in the 1840s, allowed portraits to become widely
available to the public. In a daguerreotype, light from the subject was
focused directly onto a sensitized silver plate. This made each
daguerreotype unique, as unrepeatable as the moment it captured.
Everyday people could carry around a magical vision of their absent
loved ones to gaze upon, whether in adoration or wracked with grief.
objects of meditation borrow from both forms. His process creates
translucent images on small sheets of copper. Scenes are composed and
models posed to illustrate symbolic scenes of anguish.
good portion of each plate consists of a handwritten caption. They are
nearly impossible to make out on most of the pieces, especially the
ones written in pencil on a field of brown paint. The captions are
basically stream-of-consciousness rants. Quotes like “I must endure the
weight,” “Where now? Where shall my soul be carried” and “Oh to have a
history that remembers you” probe emotional pain.
modern photographers, including Duane Michals, Robert Frank and
Syracuse’s own Carrie Mae Weems, have used text to add personal
dimension to their photographs. Antón’s poetic and obscure sentiments
give an unmistakably personal context.
imagery is more than powerful enough to captivate us on its own,
however. Instead of the relief of miracles we feel the stasis of dread.
A child sits up in his bed as a bogeyman approaches on tiptoe. A
skeleton slithers out of a man’s mouth. Figures in a small boat suspend
a limp, emaciated body overboard. A shadowy man clutches a female
corpse in a claw-footed bathtub. No saints here.
the text whispers the picture screams. Even the backgrounds burst with
emotion: clouds billow, oceans roil and fires blaze in choking smoke.
Carefully posed figures, even the silhouettes, express extreme states,
from enervated struggle to slumping release. Every glance is a
technique allows for special effects not possible with standard
photography. Careful buffing of unexposed areas of copper makes a
setting sun seem to throb with its own dying light. Scratches on the
plates become shooting sparks and gouges become curls of pure flame.
The mottled skin of a decapitated head is made even more repulsive by a
fingerprint left behind in the emulsion. Sensitized copper seems an
ideal medium for Antón’s vision of a secular purgatory.
in this show are a few sculptural pieces. These are based on the
reliquary, another item of Catholic devotion. These polished metal
containers house relics of holy men—perhaps a shard of bone or even a
heart. Antón’s versions are emblazoned with disturbing images. A
wolf-like creature devours a supine man in one and in another snakes
wag in place of a man’s tongue. Only Antón knows what relics the red
wax has sealed inside.
The mysterious title
Ollin Mecatl comes from the Aztec language. According to Antón, the
phrase encompasses “instances of time and tragedy and the
reconciliation of hope. . . the core measurements of things lost and
found, evidence of thought and the resulting sum of solitude.” Whatever
the exact meaning, Antón has found a way to bend photography to serve
his potent mystic vision.
The Measure of Movements runs through March 20 at Light Work, 316
Waverly Ave. A panel discussion with the artist will be held Thursday,
Feb. 7, 5 p.m., followed by a reception. The gallery is open Sundays
through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 443-1300.