Revelatory Elias Rivera Show at Riva Yares Gallery

- September 15, 2011

"The show at Riva Yares Gallery of the paintings of Elias Rivera included many revelatory moments for me"

The show at Riva Yares Gallery of the paintings of Elias Rivera included many revelatory moments for me.

Near the close of his major essay in the defining book on Elias’ work, Elias Rivera from Hudson Hills Press, author and critic Edward Lucie Smith states, “His market figures exist with great physical solidity, but they also inhabit a distanced, magical realm.” Not so, these new works. Labeled a social-realist painter in the earlier part of his career – oh, how we love labels – Elias, in recent memory has become a great deal more.

In this, his most recent show, his sense of line seems to have a new respect for the time, earlier in his career, when Smith made that comment. This new sense of line places Rivera's subjects in closer conversation with the strong colors of their backgrounds.

Always a colorist, Elias has somehow found an even greater depth and complexity in those colors. Often, in the past, his backgrounds were the rich walls of his market scenes. They have since become settings for these intensive tableaus of market women and children. In this new series, they are the equivalent of a personal rainbow. In each painting, the background seems a personal rainbow containing, as in nature, all the colors possible – but here, for this painting, this artist, this moment.

There is also the issue of tense - present, past and future. Elias has always been, in my mind, a narrative painter, although he has allowed the viewer to establish his or her own narrative for each work. In fact, I feel that seeing just the beauty of Elias Rivera's work misses the point. However, within this context, there is also a change of focus, a change of tense. I have most often viewed Elias' paintings in the present tense, with a hint of the past. This is where I have found the narrative in his paintings. The personal narrative that I attached to a painting would begin with the scene portrayed in front of me and provide me a hint of how each of these characters had arrived at this moment. The new works also begin in the present, but lead the viewer to the future. Even the title of the image portrayed on the cover of the show announcement speaks to this issue. It is titled, “Looking Towards Tomorrow” and is, intriguingly, placed facing towards the door taking you from the show's smaller gallery into the larger room at Riva Yares.

I am anxious to see where Elias leads us in years to come.