"In the Works" by Narsiso Rodriguez | Photo: Courtesy

It may be an inherent and reasonable expectation that an art exhibition presenting the diversity of Latinx life in Southern and Central California would at least touch on the prevailing fact of farmworker life in the region. That subject is certainly covered in the current exhibition at Solvang’s Elverhøj Museum, Under the Same Sun: From Low Riders to Farm Workers, and in a gallery-entrenched way, in the form of Narsiso Martinez’s deceptively mild-mannered, collaged takeover of one wall of the museum, “In the Works.”

These “works” function in a vast, mixed-media style — with painted imagery of farmworkers, elite diners, and agricultural go-betweens on actual unfolded cardboard produce boxes. A triangular meta-structure serves as a surrogate for a societal-economic food chain, with the toiling farmworkers at the bottom, the food-processing and marketing components in the middle zone, and a large food-filled dining table on top.

Speckled throughout the overall indoor mural-like composition are floating circles signifying the spirits of farmworkers who have passed on, whose lives would not be topics of dinner-table conversations at the top of this pyramid.

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” by Oscar Pearson | Photo: Courtesy

And yet, despite the commanding presence and scale of Martinez’s epic piece in this space, much of Under the Same Sun strives to paint a much broader iconographic landscape of experience. The show seeks, with modest resources, to transcend simplistic or stereotyped visions of Hispanic life in this piece of real estate in which the Hispanic population accounts for more than half of its inhabitants. Life takes on many forms under the sun.

Curator and artist Oscar Pearson explains in a statement that the larger goal of the show is to cull art representing a sweeping and trope-busting overview of California life: “The show focuses on synchronous experiences, emphasizing what is happening, existing, or arising at the same time. The show embodies notions of solidarity, domestic life, playful ponderings over the sensate world, as well as cultural embrace and critique.”

Such a broad and open-minded perspective can be seen in Pearson’s own contributions to the show. His iridescent compositions based on decorative patterns interwoven with figurative elements (as in the beach-bound cubist painting “Sun Salute”) take a sideways political turn with “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” a clever optical juggling act of zigzagging fences — with sly references to border tensions.

“Walking Home” by Priscilla S. Flores | Photo: Courtesy

With a light touch and palette, Luis Ramirez addresses vaquero and ranching life, including the indifferent slaughtering of a fowl in “Alegoria” and more peaceful picturing in “Tribes” and “Fiesta.” By contrast, maternal warmth and nurturing are embodied in the image of a mother reaching out to her child by a pond in “Estirando,” translating to “stretch,” here offered as a motherly gesture of bonding and cautiously letting go.

In “Walking Home,” Priscilla S. Flores’s warm bath of a palette suffuses the atmosphere of youth unleashed into summertime (a relevant subject right about now), in her painting of adolescent girls walking past a poster blithely advertising an “Early California Days” festival.

Two of the stronger pieces in the exhibition are by Jacqueline Valenzuela, most dramatically in the large painting “I Hurt the Whole Way Through,” which confronts/comforts visitors as they enter the gallery. A couple in an auto shop are holding infants with faceless countenances and cherubic glows about them, nodding to the strong aspect of religious fervor and family bond in some quarters of Latinx life, whatever the circumstances of daily life and struggles.

“I Hurt the Whole Way Through” by Jacqueline Valenzuela | Photo: Courtesy

Moving from more general to specific imagery depicting cultural values, Valenzuela’s “Done Up,” a small painting in a fittingly fur-lined gold frame, says a lot within compact means: Long, fastidiously painted fingernails drape leisurely from a low-rider window. The devil and the saint are in the details here, in a painting that doesn’t have to explain itself. The image speaks for itself. 

So it also goes with the non-dogmatic, slice-of-life nature of Under the Same Sun: From Low Riders to Farm Workers as a curatorial whole.

Under the Same Sun: From Low Riders to Farm Workers is on view at Elverhøj Museum (1624 Elverhoy Wy., Solvang) through July 7. <Editor’s Note: the show has now been extended through July 28.> The museum will host an artist demonstration and dialogue with artists Priscilla S. Flores, Narsiso Martinez, Oscar Pearson, Luis Ramirez, and Jacqueline Valenzuela on Saturday, June 29 from 4-6 p.m. See elverhoj.org.

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