Cante Jondo (Deep Song): New Paintings by Jim Vogel

Susan Wider | THE magazine - July 30, 2014

 Jim Vogel, ¡Olé!, oil on canvas panel with antique trunk frame, 22 ¾” x 22”

The performances in Jim Vogel's oil paintings are superior in some ways to live theater. These inspiring productions never have to end. Vogel’s new show at Blue Rain Gallery takes us deep into the world of flamenco music and dance as we witness his blend of art and craftsmanship. The paintings take your breath away with their vivid colors and flamenco action, and the frames he creates for them turn each piece into its own private world. The hand-carved, gold-leafed frame of "La Resurrección" represents golden flames burning around the figures in the painting. The canvas is irregular in shape within those flames, as though someone has set the edges of a larger canvas on fire and it is burning in on itself. The flamenco dancer in the center is so on fire inside her art that the ruffles on her skirt and sleeves have become red and orange flames. Even the red rose in her hair is a burst of fire. As in much of Vogel’s work, the hands and feet of his figures are oversized and over-muscled. Flamenco dancers speak with their hands and this woman’s are larger-thanlife dramatic. Her guitar player’s hands are so large they overpower his guitar. The singer gestures upward into the night sky, his right hand enlarged for expression. All three performers have closed their eyes and are immersed in their art. Vogel exaggerates the deep lines and shadows in the guitarist’s face in a way that lets us experience this musician actively listening to the singer. And in the same way, Vogel paints the wrinkled folds of the singer’s brow so that we can hear a voice full of emotion.

For "Carmen," Vogel again pulls the frame’s theme from within the subject of the picture. This time the irregular wooden borders are “draped” with theater curtains he carved. They contain the same deep folds that he paints into all of his figures’ clothing, folds that echo wrinkles on faces, and sinew in arms and legs. (Sometimes these same undulating folds even appear in Vogel’s clouds or tree bark or hillsides.) Carmen lies on the floor of what looks to be a small chapel. Paint missing from the walls reveals adobe bricks, and light floods onto the death scene from side windows, illuminating the wooden beams overhead and glinting on the blade of a knife that lies on the floor. Don José kneels over Carmen, not quite touching her, as we wait for the massive, silvery curtains to close.

Vogel is often described as a storyteller, but his work goes well beyond that notion. He is also an interpreter. He recasts and reimagines stories in a way that illuminates underlying traditions, character complexities, and reverberating plots. Never do we see a Vogel face smiling, so intense are the figures’ focus and passion. Along with the large, irregular-shaped oil paintings and their hand-carved frames, the show also includes smaller oil paintings contained inside handcrafted boxes, trunks, and cabinets. "Nuestra Señora de la Gente" (Our Lady of the People) is painted on a canvas panel that is framed by an antique wooden box, perfect for “hiding” a painting inside. Vogel paints this box with accent colors from the canvas. The same blue of the woman’s skirt appears on the box’s exterior, and the rusty red of her blouse is in the wood on the inside of the box’s doors. The box sits on a matching blue wooden shelf and viewers might need to bend slightly to peek under the box’s top rim to look into the woman’s eyes. A slight shift in stance hides her eyes and emphasizes her anonymity. Here again, the woman’s hand on the child is the oversized hand of la gente, the people, and the child itself is grounded by its large feet. Vogel often places his figures so that a hand is positioned in the center of the canvas, as is this woman’s.

"Cantador" (Gypsy Singer) is framed inside an antique Mexican wooden nicho, as reworked by Vogel, with hammered tinwork in the doors. Here, even the singer’s shadow on the back wall seems to move as the man claps and sings. ¡Olé! is a diptych; its frame is an antique New Mexican wooden trunk standing on end. The solid, earthy reds, blues, and golds of the dancers’ and observers’ clothing contrast with the bright white of a dove, just released from the woman’s dancing hand. But the most ingenious framing treatment is for "Café Cantante" (Flamenco Bar). Inside this Mexican nicho frame are a seated male singer, a female flamenco dancer in a blue dress, and a guitar player behind them, eyes lost beneath his hat brim. The brown box is distressed with traces of the dress’s blue paint and the box’s door is outfitted on the inside with a small curtain rod and an antique lace curtain, yellow with age, that can be pulled across to close out the world, much as a drawn café curtain might close off the entertainment inside from passers-by.

With the flamenco theme of this show, Vogel hopes to create added awareness for the recent catastrophic fire at the National Institute of Flamenco in Albuquerque.