Raul Guerrero‘s elegant show “Beatniks” marks his own creative take on Beatnik author Jack Kerouac’s American classic On the Road; it is up now in the Rotunda Gallery at the lovely Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla. Beatniks, or the Beats, were non-conformist artists and writers of the 1950s and 60s, and their influence continues to this day.
The selection of 12 works, including paintings, prints, and other artworks, recall Guerrero’s own continuing international road experience and gives us pictures from some of his observations in Mexico and North Africa. Depictions of the selected intersections of time and place that coincide with the travels of the classic Beats, like those in the Jack Kerouac crowd, are among the images.
Guerrero’s blend of place, memory and culture is summarized in the 2012 painting, Still Life with Beatnik Poster (see above), which gathers up various signs and cultural insignia of the times and brings it all forward into a pastiche of symbols and relics. The tall painting includes a blend of iconography includes ancient and contemporary images–including a cardboard coffee cup, a representative Beatnik poster, chalk stick figures engaged in sexual activity, and a picture of an ancient Peruvian.
The exhibition is set in a small gallery near of the library’s elaborate installation of sample pages from a newer, 2009 edition of the classic On the Road, packaged by Larry Gagosian and Steidl Publishing, with art direction and some photography by Ed Ruscha. And while the original Beat trip is mainly one of gringos, Guerrero’s artworks illustrate a personal, Mestizo experience of the same kind of adventurous travel and aesthetics.
In an interview with me, Guerrero, who has frequently traveled in Mexico and other locations popular with the Beats, writes:
Many of the Beat artist and painters used to go south to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, I hitchhiked all of Mexico in 1965 ending up in San Miguel where many were congregating–all pot smokers–so it makes some sense to play with that period by showing this collection of images.
Tomo III, 1994, from the series “Historia y Leyendas de Las Calles de Mexico,” was inspired by a copy of On the Road that I bought from a book vendor just outside of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City,” writes Guerrero in an artist’s statement. At the same time, he purchased another book, entitled Historia y Leyendas de Las Calles de Mexico (trans: history and legends of the roads of Mexico) upon which he based a series of prints using fine handmade mate paper made in Mexico. Explains the artist:
The street names evoked strange and evocative images, and this series is the result.
Cafe Tanjier; 1980, a black and white print, is a picture of what the artist recalled in 1980 of his visit in 1971, the Moroccan air filled with the smoke of kif (a form of hashish) as the viewer overlooks the ancient quarter of the city. Tangier was a haven for bohemian non-conformists when Guerrero visited in 1971, many of whom followed on the heels of the Rolling Stones, themselves drawn by Beat author William Burroughs’ 1954 stay, inspired by the fiction of Paul Bowles–and the loose, exotic atmosphere..
A collection of bronze sculptures from a series of “Peru 1322 A.D.,” an edition of 8 which honor the indigenous subtext of the continent, round out the exhibition.
“Beatniks,” Raul Guerrero
Through March 23, 2013
Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
1008 Wall Street
La Jolla, CA 92037-4418
858 454 5872
10 AM – 5:30 PM Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday
10 AM – 8:30 PM Wednesdays
Closed Sunday & Monday