Brownsville artist brings barrio style to Rusteberg gallery

February 8, 2019 GMT

Art aficionados still have a chance to catch Brownsville painter Cande Aguilar’s BarrioPOP exhibition at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Rusteberg Art Gallery. The show entitled “Capirotada” brings together a colorful mishmash of Aguilar’s abstract work and will be up through Feb. 15.

Aguilar said it’s exciting to have a show at the campus.

“ There is a lot of gratification in that, to bring my work here, because it’s a space I’ve been wanting to show at for a long time,” he said. “The proximity to the river is even more significant. I’m definitely filled with a sense of pride.”


Aguilar took every detail into consideration when preparing the gallery for the show on the theme of “Capirotada,” which is the opposite of the cohesive exhibitions he created from his BarrioPOP body of work. Even the arraignment of his smaller paintings was reminiscent of how art might be arranged at a home in the barrio, he said, with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary alongside bowls of fruit.

“ (Capirotada means) that it doesn’t match, but somehow they still work,” he said. “They’re always mixmatching their decor. There’s not an interior decorator that decorates somebody’s barrio house.”

Aguilar said he strives to bring to his work the sense of humor he developed growing up in Southmost neighborhoods -- even for pieces that touch on politics.

While plenty of the people he loves and admires, including his best friend, are supporters of President Donald Trump, Aguilar’s five-panel painting “Game Over” includes a familiar blond coif sitting atop a roll of pink toilet paper. There’s more symbolism is a speech bubble coming from an Impala lowrider asking, “Was the last kiss nice?”

“ It’s saying goodbye, like on the last day of school or saying goodbye to a girl,” Aguilar explained. “In the barrio, there’s more of a sense of humor, kidding around. It’s wishful thinking. Maybe this administration will end sooner rather than later.”

“ Capirotada” includes his 2006 piece “The Immigrant,” which consists of a mannequin with a vintage TV set for a head sitting atop a golden chair. The static playing on the TV represents the uncertainty faced during immigrants’ journeys, Aguilar said, while the torso represents the human and the chair is meant to symbolize the American Dream.

“ I think that’s what they really want, verda? I honestly believe they’re here to make a living,” he said.

Aguilar’s paintings didn’t start out abstract. He said most of his subjects where objects inside his home, like fruits and flowers. That changed after 9/11.


“ It really woke me up in a sense of, what’s going on outside my house? Things are not what you may perceive them,” he said.

His style continued to evolve after he became a father and with each new addition to his family. When his first daughter was born in 2002, he gained “an understanding of what abstraction could be.”

“ An infant, they don’t know what they’re actually looking at, so everything in their view must be abstract,” Aguilar said.

His second daughter taught him tenacity. Even if he tried to discipline her by taking away all her toys, Aguilar recalled, she would become entertained by her hands. His son came next, and Aguilar observed the way the boy enjoyed writing things down even if it was gibberish.

“ (It showed) things don’t have to make sense,” Aguilar said. “Art doesn’t have to have a function other than visual.”

Now that he’s a bit older, being a dad to a 2-year-old daughter is a new parenting experience that Aguilar said has imparted upon him a “sense of beauty.” There’s a playfulness that is part of his work, he said, as shown by the juxtaposition of pop culture from both in and outside of the Valley.

Aguilar said he hopes people who visit “Capirotada” are left with a sense of nostalgia and pride in where they come from.

“ I want them to … feel like they walked into something they don’t want to leave,” he said, like they would after a good concert or movie. “No matter where you come from, it’s valid. (This country’s about) being able to carry your culture and share it with everybody.”

The UTRGV Rusteberg Art Gallery is located in Brownsville at 65 Gorgas Drive and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. A visitor’s parking permit can be obtained at the Parking and Transportation Services office at 2395 W. University Blvd.

Learn more about Aguilar’s work at or on the BarrioPOP Facebook page.