SCHEREZADE GARCIA is a Dominican-born, New York-educated painter who has exhibited in New York and the Dominican Republic since the early 1990's. Since graduating with a degree in painting from the Parsons School of Design in 1988, she has lived and worked in New York City, and in response to the many, often complex cultural influences in both her art and life, the artist has integrated disparate formal elements into her paintings. Her art, which looks back to the formal court paintings of Spain, the meninas of Velasquez, at the same time jumps ahead to the vibrant, often atonal energies of her contemporary urban life in New York.
Garcia achieves her striking mixture of historical quotation and contemporary presence through the layered association of images. With the exception of one work, which is done on camouflage fabric, the artist uses tapertry cloth as the ground of her paintings. For Garcia, the fabric possesses a complex mixture of valences, good and bad - both the greatness and the decline of Spanish culture, which is still a powerful presence in the Caribbean, are suggested.
The complications of such a relationship, in which a talented artist has decided to make formal use of a culture that has colonized her own, are played out so that Spanish influence becomes both a means and a theme in Garcia's art.
In the 1998 series "Tales of Freedom, Objects of War", Garcia regularly paints a female figure; often, but not always, she uses her own likeness for the face (when she does not, the reference is usually to one of the meninas, or little girls, painted by Velasquez). The image's visage has a historical air; yet, at the same time, the marks themselves suggest the whirling energies of the abstract expressionist style in their freely gestural, careening hand. This melding of subject and technique is central to Garcia's art. Other images are drawn with ink onto the composition, whose surface reads rather like a palimpsest-a crowded, layered-over history of one artist's efforts to make sense of her moment in time. These "objects of war" include a wide miscellany of images - human heads, heads of elephants and horses and roosters, palm trees, hands, babies, guns, and strange tanks, all of which are rendered in a sensitive, spontaneous line. The diversity
of the imagery considerably expands Garcia's references, so that personal and public histories merge. Nonetheless, the war toys drawn suggest that in history of colonialism is a chronicle of extended cruelties, which demonstrate indifference to any values except those of empire.
Sometimes the image is more local than the viewer might think - Garcia explains the pig drawn in one painting as referring not only to male chauvinism, but also to the Dominican tradition of roasting a pig in the open air at Christmas time. At the same time, because the artist is working symbolically, with a technique that finds political expression in images derived from personal experience, viewers can regard the paintings as portraying a historical world, albeit one in which Garcia's nod toward the history of Spanish painting must be understood as a contemporary comment on the past. Her scholarship is a matter of spirit rather than a matter of academy.
Even if we read Garcia's linear improvisations surrounding a historically determined figure as postmodern graffiti, meant to crowd out past events, we must also recognize just how aware the artist is in regard to keeping continuity alive. Nonetheless, as the artist has commented, there are different ways of preserving the same material. Garcia's achievement is to take an outlook and style many would find uncomfortably resonant of empire and make it useful to herself and to the viewer; her technique and subject matter are not so much subversions of tradition as they are animated extensions of a complex cultural heritage which, for all the depredations of history, also communicates gravity and grace-attributes which interest the artist.
Poet, Writer and Editor @ArtAmerica