"Snite exhibits Paul Sierra art"
South Bend Tribune, Sunday, August 6, 1995
By: Jim Houghton, Special to the Tribune
SOUTH BEND-The paintings of Paul Sierra, "Landscapes of the Soul," displayed at the Snite Museum of Art pulse with energy, color and change.
Sierra, born in Havana in 1944, immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 16. Finding a home in Chicago, the young Sierra attended the School of the Art Institute from 1963-67.
"Exotica," as all the canvases in the Snite exhibit, is a monumental oil painting. The smallest work in the exhibit is 4 by 5 feet, the largest is 5 by 12 feet.
Sierra uses antithetical ideas to make his paintings. For example, "Exotica" has such vivid colors, sharp contrasts of light and odd viewpoints that the surface shatters into fragments. At the same time, he unites the fragments into one continuous, coherent scene. The result is an extremely rich painting that is suggestive and evocative.
Sierra has said, "I like to improvise as I go. The work is always evolving and changing." Certainly, the heavy paint, scumbled color and lush surface show the development of his work. They also suggest the richness of meanings his works have.
Sierra has said his paintings depict something beyond mere nature. They are to depict what he considers "magic moments," those times ripe with possibilities. Consequently, his work has both an aura of the mysterious and the romantic.
In "Exotica," he weaves fragments of fantasy and dream, a sense of the past and the present into one scene boiling like that primordial soup. The fecundity, fragmentation and reordering of reality recalls Latin American writers Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, who Sierra claims as major influences.
Sierra should not be pigeonholed as a Hispanic artist. Rather his themes explore all aspects of human life.
For example "Harvest," owned by the Snite Museum, depicts fire destroying nature that completes the cycle of life begun in "Exotica." At the same time, the figure walking in the background symbolizes the coming of the future.
"Exotica" and "Harvest" are demanding and uncompromising, but "Sisyphus" shows Sierra's lighter side and cynical humor.
In the ancient Greek myth, Zeus condemned Sisyphus to roll a great rock to the top of a hill. Before he could reach the summit, the rock would roll to the bottom, so Sisyphus would have to begin again and again throughout eternity. Sierra shows Sisyphus walking away from the hill. As Sierra notes, since society today believes the divine is dead, how can Sisyphus any longer be punished?
Underneath the surface humor are suggestions of serious questions such as the contrast between the original myth where man is subservient and contemporary life where man has triumphed.
Sierra's paintings succeed as decorative pieces as well as challenging statements.
©1995 South Bend Tribune & Jim Houghton