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“The Golden Flower” by Jorge Larrea reflects bright colors of his Hispanic heritage in Ecuador. COURTESY CLERESTORY FINE ART

Awake in Dreams: The Visual Immersions of

Jorge Larrea
Sept. 24 – Nov. 7
Clerestory Fine Art
40 Church St., clerestoryfineart.com

Artist’s talk: “Process and the Influence of Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Symbolism,” Wednesday, Oct. 14, 7-9 p.m.
Artist’s talk in Spanish: Saturday,
Oct. 24, 5-6 p.m.
José Camacho
Midland Gallery
13 Midland Ave., 973-746-4884

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news 

At first glance you might think the two artists’ works have nothing in common: The paintings in Jorge Larrea’s “Awake in Dreams,” showing at Clerestory Fine Art on Church Street, Sept. 24 through Nov. 7, are colorful, geometric, surreal. 

The canvases in José Camacho’s Midland Gallery, which is half-studio, half-frame shop, are largely monochromatic, still lives of plantains, abstracts with Spanish words.

But both artists say their work reflects their Hispanic heritage: Larrea, from Ecuador, says his bold colors are inspired by the clothes indigenous people wear in his home city of Quito.

Camacho says his work is in dialogue with work and expression of Puerto Rico. 

And both artists’ works reflect the subconscious and the esoteric, as well.

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“Tropicos Tristes” by José Camacho reflects his Hispanic heritage. COURTESY JOSE CAMACHO

PLANTAINS AND GHOSTS

José Camacho’s work has a narrative that relates to his ethnic background and his heritage. He left Puerto Rico when he was 19. He studied at Montclair State University.

For the past few years he has been working on different canvases of plantains, or canvases made of words taken from Puerto Rican literature and music. 

He also bases some of his work around the elements of alchemy: fire, earth, air, water and ether. One of the paintings of the plantains is called “Ghost”; it is the one based on ether.

JOSE CAMACHO

Unlike Larrea, he does not work as much in bright colors.

His art is always in dialogue with Puerto Rican art, as much as with American art, he said.

The island has a simple history in the arts, Camacho said. “Right now, Puerto Rico is actually opening up in the international market of the arts, with a lot of artists now venturing into galleries in New York,” he said. There is a strong culture of silk screens and printmaking.

Larrea’s work is esoteric, and Camacho’s is as well.

It’s interesting how law, history and esoteric thinking work together, he said.

There might be something about being a Spanish-speaking immigrant that is conducive to esoteric subjects, he said.

“There is a strong heritage in our indigenous backgrounds, and that’s part of the whole mysticism,” Camacho said.

One painting says “Ay bendito” over and over again, a phrase that Puerto Rican people will say to express sympathy, or anger, or other things, depending on how it’s said.

Another canvas reads “Estos trópicos tristes,” or “This sad tropics.”

The words are from “La Guaracha del Macho Camacho,” a novel written by a Puerto Rican novelist, Luis Rafael Sánchez. A guaracha is a kind of Latin rhythm, and critics say the novel itself moves to that beat, asking readers to learn what it sounds like. A disc jockey reminds readers about the guaracha from a musician named Macho Camacho, as the novel relates stories about different characters. The painting has the first lines of the book.

But the meaning lies beyond the words.

“The novel really portrays in a funny and sad way our relationship with the United States, as well as the corruption,” Camacho said. It is about assimilation, and cultural identity, themes that can also be found in his work.

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“Om” by Jorge Larrea. COURTESY CLERESTORY FINE ART

‘AWAKE IN DREAMS’

Jorge Larrea’s show opened on March 12.

Clerestory owner Kathryn McGuire had a panel planned. She had been working on the launch for a year and had intended this show to be the national launch of her gallery, after its first year, which was focused on community.

The show opened for one day and then, thanks to COVID-19, had to close except by appointment only.

“It’s time,” she said at the show’s opening on Sept. 24. “It was time to relaunch it.”

The paintings are now up through Hispanic Heritage month, which started Sept. 15 and goes through Oct. 15.

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Some in Montclair may know his work: Larrea taught art at Northeast Elementary School for seven years, from 2011 to 2018. 

Strikingly, many of his paintings have checkerboard-like geometrics as a background for human figures, or concentric circles.

The squares look precise, but Larrea draws them by hand. He finds it soothing, he said. “The geometry helps me to get into a different dimension.” Looking at a painting called “Will,” from 2016, he said, “You know, this is not the earth. It has to do with our minds. It takes us to a more abstracted level.” 

The painting shows figures against a checkerboard-like blue and green background, wrestling. A snake crawls up a pillar. A lizard crawls up another pillar.

Some of his inspirations come to him in dreams. He doesn’t always know what is going to happen, he said. 

McGuire said, “When I’ve written about this work, I often come back to this piece [Will]. It’s microcosms and macrocosms. He goes deep. He goes into this molecular level, but also

Jorge Larrea describes one of his paintings, “Light in Space.” GWEN OREL/STAFF

this broader human consciousness. To me that’s what makes his work a huge step in contemporary surrealism.”

The colors of the paintings called “In the
Beginning, Hydrogen” and “The Alchemist” are particularly bright. Larrea also uses colors as symbols in his work. Color, as little or as big as it may be, expresses so much emotion. 

“I’m from Ecuador. Latin American art is very colorful. I am an art historian, and I love the Renaissance, too, and Renaissance art is very colorful,” he said. “The indigenous people wear colorful clothes, and paint with colorful pigments.”

His paintings also use images from Jungian philosophy. His figures are usually nude so they can remain symbolic, he said, rather than placed in a particular time or culture. “And because it’s all abstraction, it’s a dream world,” he said. 

For Larrea the struggle is not to find the right shapes, or composition, but “getting the right colors.” Most of his colors come directly out of the tube, and he does not dilute colors with white or black to lighten or darken them. “That’s why they are so rich,” he said. 

He is interested in psychology, too, and finds that the art sometimes tells him what he is feeling: a kind of therapy. “If I know what I’m going to do, then what’s the point of doing it anyways? They’re immersions. They’re explorations.” He might think, why do I need this or that figure? And then he realizes that he has a particular feeling. 

McGuire said, “I understand how meditative and calming it is to make lines like this, and that precision.” 

The act of making it is calming, she said. And the waviness of the circles (which do not look wavy) is part of the point — losing that control. 

“It’s so satisfying,” Larrea agreed.