By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
Great film is collaboration. A great director works together with a great cinematographer and they point the camera at the most talented actors available. Tradition holds that the director is credited as the genius behind the art of cinema, but the cinematographer is frequently the silent voice hidden within the reel — the director of photography.
Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa was considered the premier cinematographer of Mexico’s Golden Age of Film. Beginning in the early 1930s and continuing for a quarter-century, Mexico was home to one of the world’s most colorful and diverse film cultures. Not many other countries could claim a comparable range of production, diversity of genres and number of master filmmakers.
Recently, Santa Monica artist representative Patricia Correia joined her good friend, Alida Post, of Post-Future Art Co. at Williams Book Store in San Pedro, to organize an incandescent exhibition of Figueroa images culled from original 35mm light test strips.
Revered for his meticulous detail, Figueroa’s collection of photographs is comprised of images taken directly from the final film reel. His photographs are impeccable examples of lighting, composition and chiaroscuro in both landscape and portraits.
Figueroa’s son, Gabo, approached Correia to revive his father’s striking images and introduce them to a new generation that may not have been aware of his work. The call from the younger Figueroa came at an important moment in Correia’s life. A recent widow, she had closed her gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. The death of her husband and the 2008 recession combined to push her into an early retirement. The project to display Figueroa’s stunning photos inspired her to return to the art world.
From their inception, movies were predominantly monochromatic—shot in various shades of a single color. Figueroa’s luminous monochromatic cinema defined the golden age of Mexican cinema.
Figueroa is known for his iconic images that helped forge a Mexican visual cultural identity, including faces swimming in light, figures cast in shadow, and skies so glorious they became known as “Figueroa skies.”
In the early 20th century, Mexico experienced one of the greatest upheavals in modern history. The Mexican Revolution broke ties with the past and opened the path to a modern nation. Mexican filmmakers were at the front lines of creating this new national character through the art of cinema.
In this beautiful collection of photographs, you see a nation emerging from rural peasantry, and witness an artist emerging to become a national hero. Diego Rivera called Gabriel Figueroa “the fourth Mexican muralist,” taking his place alongside the greats: José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rivera himself.
“I have done nothing more than to define the boundaries of reality in the hands of the camera,” Figueroa said in 1971. “To tell stories, to invent stories: my life has been nothing more than an accident in an accident in that universe already populated by timeless beings.”
Nominated for an Oscar in 1964 and honored for his work on the film Macario at the Cannes Film Festival, Figueroa’s work included many classic films including The Fugitive from director John Ford, Under The Volcano and The Night Of The Iguana from John Houston, La Perla from director and actor Emilio “Indio” Fernández and Los Olvidados, created with the master of Mexican film, Luis Buñuel. Figueroa received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematography in 1995.
An additional bonus to this exhibit is Correia’s connection to the Chicano art that rose out of the United Farmworkers movement in California. Post-Future Art Co. has a massive collection of Chicano art posters on sale to compliment the black and white photos from the Figueroa collection.
In her Bergamot Station space, Patricia Correia Gallery, she has exclusively displayed emerging Chicano artists during the past five years.
“I showed all the classics,” Correia said. “I showed Patssi Valdez, John Valdez all of them… I wanted to give them all a platform.”
The movement has finally come into its own, inspired by impressionism, expressionism, the Mexican muralists, photorealism and retablo paintings (devotional paintings using iconography derived from traditional Catholic church art).
The most famous patron of this movement is Cheech Marin. Primarily known as an actor, and performer, Marin has developed the finest private collection of Chicano art in the United States. Correia has brought signed copies of his book, Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge. At the core of the book is a portfolio of 96 stunning paintings, largely drawn from Marin’s own collection.
The Chicano vision has found its own voice and Post-Future Gallery has some of the best examples on view.
The closing reception for this exhibit is planned for Aug. 6, during the San Pedro first Thursday Art Walk. Post – Future Art Company is open by appointment and every month during the first Thursday Art Walk.
Details: www.post-future.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Venue: Post-Future Art Company, 443 W. 6th St., San Pedro