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Review: Carolyn Castano at Walter Maciel Gallery

April 17, 2009 | 10:45 am

LauraZuniga-lg In his cartoonish style, Colombian artist Fernando Botero once painted a picture of slain drug kingpin Pablo Escobar as an obese, rooftop-dancing gangster amid a hail of bullets — sort of “Fiddler on the Roof” for the degenerate set. He presented the brutal criminal, once listed by Forbes magazine among the world’s richest men, in his pseudo-Robin Hood guise, dangerous yet cuddly. I’ll take Carolyn Castaño’s version any day. Her new work at Walter Maciel Gallery shuns easy moralizing for the sheer strangeness of modern media celebrity.

Seven punchy portraits, each 5 by 4 feet, chronicle men and women associated with Colombia’s drug-addled travails. Paired with Escobar is Virginia Vallejo, the television news anchor who, improbably, was also his mistress. Nearby is Laura Zuñiga, the Mexican beauty queen who last December lost her crown when she was arrested on an alleged cash-and-weapons-smuggling trip to South America. Rodrigo Echeverry, Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas and others who have flashed across TV screens also make appearances.

Castaño renders each one as a two-dimensional line drawing in rudimentary black paint on a blank white ground. Something as mundane as a facial feature — the curve of a nose or the shape of an eye — is faithfully rendered. But likeness is swamped by the overwhelming sparkle of glitter-encrusted paint on hair and lips, showers of syncopated geometric patterns in bright, eye-dazzling colors and lush cascades of ornate, stylized flowers. 

There’s a visual insanity to the blaring execution of this imagery that meshes perfectly with the craziness of the subjects’ outlandish tabloid stories. A kind of Extreme Celebrity Portraiture, Castaño’s gonzo pictures make weird sense of inscrutable lives.

-- Christopher Knight

Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-1840, through May 9. Closed Sundays and Mondays. 

Above: "Beauty Queen, Drug Moll, Girlfriend (Laura Zuniga)" (2009), acrylic, glitter and mixed media on canvas. Credit: Walter Maciel Gallery

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