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PV Art Daybook 1221

December 19, 2018

The piece: “The Uninvited”

The artist: Patrick McGrath Muñíz

Where: Vaughan Mason Fine Art, through Jan. 12

Why: This bustling Nativity scene inspired by Raphael’s iconic, early-16th-century altarpiece “The Adoration of the Magi” reminds me of a front yard loaded with mixed-message holiday decorations.

Who, I wonder, is “The Uninvited” figure of the title? The vintage Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Chick-fil-A cow, Uncle Sam, Darth Vader, Mickey Mouse, Rich Uncle Pennybags (the Monopoly game mascot), police in riot gear, conquistadors, revolutionary soldiers, farm laborers? Maybe even the king bearing gifts — that’s the Burger King monarch, offering a tray of his best junk food. The inscription, in a mashup of Spanish, Latin and English, reads, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Let it snow. Ho, ho, ho!”

Some of these figures appear so frequently in Patrick McGrath Muñíz’s work, as symbols of a consumer society bent on self-destruction, they now come to him almost subliminally. He painted “The Uninvited” in 2013, the year before he and his wife, architect Blanca McGrath, moved to Houston.

One of the oldest pieces in his show, “Propaganda Perpetua,” it is also one of the darkest, literally: It contains a lot of black pigment, in the tradition of Spanish masters. The new works are brighter and more refined. But they still appropriate the religious art that first enthralled Muñíz as a young boy growing up in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, in a Catholic household that included a nun.

Among the familiar pop figures, costumed friends and family also populate his canvases. His 6-month old son, Francis, is already appearing and inspiring new works, as is life in Houston. “What I’m most interested in, ultimately, is archetypes, and in making these stories relevant to our political scene,” the artist said.

His early work was more abstract, and most of it was destroyed along with his hometown studio in Hurricane Maria. He found his satiric voice when he saw connections between colonization and consumerism more than a decade ago at Savannah College of Art and Design, while earning his MFA.

“Savannah had so many churches and fast-food joints, it all came together, connecting the dots of what I left behind in Puerto Rico and what I saw in the States,” he said. “There’s very much in common between the church and consumer culture. Both propagate strategies of conversion … that go beyond national borders and transcend political boundaries.”

Thus, the show’s title, “Propaganda Perpetua.” Muñíz paints with oils to reference the medium of centuries-old religious works. “I’m trying to emulate the language of the church,” he said. Some of the pieces are hinged triptychs, like altarpieces. The painting is lush and confident in them all, and they’re a blast to decipher.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who thinks so. Muñíz had four solo shows this year and now can claim a celebrity collector. (Johnny Depp bought a triptych.) The artist will give a free gallery talk on Jan. 12, the final day of “Propaganda Perpetua.” His work is also on view in a group show at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe, N.M. through March 29.


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