Most people are fond of grandparents. Whether sweet and wise, or slow and grumpy, senior citizens are generally respected and endeared. That's why this YouTube video of grannies on a roller coaster is so popular. But nobody wants to look up grandma's skirt or think about grandpa sans pants. Nobody except Gina M. Contreras, this month's featured artist at the Adobe Books Back Room Gallery. The artist shows her support for the elderly and their return to innocence, depicting them adrift in flowers, carefree, childlike, and ready to make out.
The titles and characters' facial expressions carry the narrative in My Love is Another Kind, Contreras's exhibition of paintings and drawings. In "My Heart Was Interrupted by the Assholeness of Yours" an old woman glares at her presumed partner, an old man looking helpless and sorry. But the scene is ambiguous, and the figures appear more than once, indicating various actions or moods. They peek out from behind flourishing flowers and aqua glitter, making the paintings feel almost decorative, like an old teacup. Besides being pretty, the flowers also hint at the fragility of old age; flowers fade like we do.
The paintings don't seem perverted, even though in one of them grandpa is hiding his exposed junk behind a pink pansy. These subtle sexual hints are Contreras's way of trying to make us comfortable with the fact that old people are lusty human beings who explore a new sense of freedom and what the artist refers to as "possibility" in their golden years. But because the artist is only in her early 20s and comes up with titles like Bonerific, I could also see her paintings as the personal narrative of a young adult with an old soul and naughty sense of humor. Sometimes young couples act like old fogies, too.
Color is important in this artist's work because the warm tones tug at nostalgic heartstrings. Contreras painted the gallery walls beige to enhance her palette, creating a comfort zone for the viewer before revealing her rarely explored subject matter, and addressing what curator Nicole Lattuca describes as "the social tendency to be dismissive and easily repulsed by our inevitable future existence." The art certainly stirs up that conversation, but what I liked best was Contreras's knack for rendering expressive, wrinkly faces.
Also included in the show is a selection of hand-printed pages from Contreras's book If Only Things Were Like That, which was recently acquired by SFMoMA. In this series, the geriatric are pictured in everyday life, kissing in the park or taking a nap -- their faces look so aged and weary, but you can see they are happy. Contreras's printmaking background stokes her skilled drawing hand, creating a style that is memorable and magnetic. Her show is worth a look, even if you have to face your inevitable future as a randy old geezer.
My Love is Another Kind is on view through February 21, 2010 at Adobe Books Back Room Gallery. More information available on the gallery's blog.