Painted in oils on aluminum by Steven Derks, "Surging" is cool and it's wet and it's blue. The soothing star of Lluvia, the summer monsoon show at Raices Taller, the painting is an abstraction divided into gently edged geometries. A vertical streak of blue and red showers down the center of a silvery rectangle. Soft squares in cerulean, green and blue are piled wetly atop one another at left, and at right, ochre circles bigger than the biggest raindrops hover over a plane of red earth.
Derks has layered his colors beautifully on the slick metal, leaving a glittering metal border around the edges. Pooling the colors of nature over a slippery manmade surface, he conjures up soaked canyons and drenched streets alike. And his squares and rectangles suggest windows opening onto the monsoon rains.
Lluvia ("Rain") features a couple dozen artists, each with a slightly different take on Tucson's most beloved weather. Side by side with Derks' lovely abstraction is E. Michael Contreras' "Rain Dance at Topowa #2," a mythic landscape that's the polar opposite of Derks' distilled essence of rain. Rendered in simple shapes, boldly outlined, this oil on canvas contains both a tale and a landscape. Overlapping mountains in blues, greens and reds stretch cross the horizon, and the uppermost peak erupts like a volcano. Instead of lava, though, wildly gyrating blue lightning shoots out into the gray-green sky.
Yellow rain dancers cavort across the ridge under the bolts, holding hands as they summon up the thunderclouds. Their painted dance just may have worked. Tucson's summer rains coincided almost exactly with this show, which will be up just one more week. Not long after "Rain Dance" went up on the gallery wall in the parched city, the first hard monsoon hit.
Or maybe it was Ceci Garcia's "Prayer for a Dry River" that did the trick. A self-described Irish Chicana, Garcia has made a religious retablo in the old Mexican style, complete with a church-like arch and a saint. But as she often does in her art, she mixed soil from significant places with her paints. This time around, dirt from Arizona's parched San Pedro River and dust brought back from a cemetery in Ireland combine with her pale pastel colors.
Garcia mixed the two landscapes, too. The desert's blue sky and violet mountains dominate the top half, but the Emerald Isle surely inspired the row upon row of stylized blue waves that flow across the bottom. Both cultures under consideration here share the same faith, at least nominally, and a tonsured saint is up in Garcia's sky, presumably wending her painted rain prayer to the heavens.
Juan Enriquez has also painted a figure-in-a-landscape, in a small and sensuous oil on canvas that's untitled. Beneath a shiny gold sky, a yellow woman is dipped in pale yellow water. The white flower petals tumbling down suggest a link not just to the familiar work of Frida Kahlo but to the folkloric art of Mexico that inspired her.
David Tineo, well known for his murals around town, is also working a traditional Mexican style. (Raices Taller is primarily devoted to Latino art.) Inspired by the grinning skulls of Day of the Dead folklore, he has painted a whole series of grinning skeletons flopping about in el agua and cavorting in la lluvia.
"Twins" has two skeleton girls twirling under umbrellas. In "Noah's Ark," a crew of happy animal skeletons--a snake, a cat, a quetzal bird--ride a bright choppy sea in a wooden boat, while a mermaid skeleton in a green bikini flirts with a skeleton fish. The rain reference in this thickly painted acrylic on canvas comes in the form of threatening gray clouds above. Not to mention the floodwaters generated by 40 blissful days and nights of rain.
Just imagine what Tucson might look like with such a blessing. George Welch apparently has. His acrylic on canvas "The Regreening Monsoon" is a cooling pool of blues and greens. Using every watery shade possible from cerulean through turquoise though ultramarine and green earth, Welch has painted a not-quite-landscape that mimics the surface of a forest pond. Small circles of color skitter across the top layer, the way drops of water glitter in the sun.
But Welch has somehow pulled off the trick of making his painting seem deep and shallow at the same time. When you look at "The Regreening Monsoon," you have the feeling of gazing into deep, dark, endlessly welcoming waters.