In the 2015 oil on canvas painting by Gustavo Uriel entitled “Dissimulate” you see a young man on a bed facing you. He’s doing what a lot of us do in bed these days: scrolling on his smartphone, his face bathed in blue light. On the other side of the bed, you see the young man’s nude partner, only visible in broad outline, facing away, cast in shadow.
Uriel, 24, is one of 45 Hoosier artists who are showing work in a juried exhibition entitled Curio Cabinet, at the Indianapolis Art Center, curated by Kyle Herrington, which opened Friday June 9.
“Curio Cabinet is a group exhibition focusing on the idea of art as a window into curiosity, invention, and wonder,” says Herrington.
“Dissimulate,” Uriel’s only entry into this show, could be described as an internet-age window into curiosity. It’s a self-portrait — although Uriel is hesitant to label it so — that engages with sure-footed realism, treatments of light and shadow and its sense of mystery.
In this painting, it’s impossible to know whether the young man’s partner is a man or woman.
“I guess that’s important to me, the viewer’s interpretation,” says Uriel, whose studio is the basement of the house in Irvington where he lives. “Because my tendency is to be on the nose a little too often. So I like when I leave a space for interpretation. Because in a lot of my work, my drive towards making it is to understand my personal issues with sexuality and the culture behind that. But I want the work to speak to more than just my own needs. A lot of the work is suggestive in a modest manner. It’s never really explicit. I want to slow the viewer’s gaze and try to trick them into just staying with the painting longer ... beyond the face value.”
In a 2016 painting playfully entitled “Forget-Me-Knot” (oil on wood) you see another couple; no faces are visible, only torsos and limbs — and the bulge in one of the subject’s shorts. They could be wrestling, or about to make love.
“I haven’t made too much work about it but I do think about how sensual sports are,” Uriel says. “It’s so much a masculine, hetero setting and culture. But they do these really sensual things. Because I played a few sports in high school, and I knew I was gay and I never fit in.”
Uriel went to high school in Vincennes and then spent three years in Vincennes University before transferring to Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis where he graduated in 2015 with a B.F.A in painting. He returned recently to sports, but on his own terms.
“I’ve been out of school for a year,” he says. “I took a gap year. I wasn’t painting very much. I took up boxing. I loved it but I did not renew because I wanted to paint again.”
Spirituality also plays a prominent role in his work. You can see this in a particular 2016 painting entitled “Day Dream,” features a well-muscled young man in the nude. He’s ringed by a halo outlined not by gold leaf, a common medium in the genre of religious icon painting, but by gold spray paint. And the man’s not being embraced at his dying moment by the Virgin Mary; instead he’s checking his smartphone.
In Uriel’s life there is a certain tension between devotion to painting — a demanding discipline — and the draw of social media.
“So, now after a year [after graduating Herron] I feel good and I feel like making consistent work a lot more,” he says. “So in that time I’ve been cutting things out and social media is one of them. Being good about time management. Although I can’t ever give it up. I’ve limited it to 30 minutes after work.”
Unlike “Dissimulate” where his reference was a photograph that he took of himself and another model with a tripod, the visual reference for “Daydream” was a figure appropriated from the internet.
“I’m more interested in appropriation because it allows me to assemble a situation or composition using photographs from my camera roll or images that I’ve taken with my DSLR,” he says. “Combining what’s mine and what I’m appropriating. I’m really interested in the idea that our social media feeds say a lot about us.”