For sheer tenacity in following through on a project, it’s hard to beat the team at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery. Blessed with the acquisition of several outright masterpieces related to the city’s Old Spanish Days celebration, Frank Goss and his curators began combing the coast and beyond two years ago in search of every imaginable manifestation of this Fiesta fixation in visual art, and now, with the opening of Picturing Old Spanish Days, we can share the fruits of their labor in this charmingly eclectic carnival of festive images.
At the core of the show is a pair of gifted artists with decidedly romantic tendencies. Born in Mexico in 1910, Jesús Helguera crossed the Atlantic twice while he was growing up, first to escape the chaos of the revolution in Mexico, and then to avoid the economic catastrophe of the Spanish Civil War. His painting “La bamba” is an exuberant celebration of the dance of love. Perfectly suited in its active composition and bright realism to reproduction as a poster or postcard, “La bamba” nevertheless demands to be seen in person, which is the only way to appreciate the extraordinarily painstaking approach that Helguera took to developing the exquisite surface of this modern icon. Drawing on influences that range from Aztec mythology to Catholicism and pin-up girls, Helguera captures the essence of the sensuous fantasy that animates our Spanish-themed August bacchanal.
While it was Helguera’s “La bamba” that launched this project, it was the discovery of Theodore Jackman’s work that demonstrated just how much potential there was in looking for specifically Fiesta-themed art. “Fan Dance,” an oil painting by Jackman from the early 20th century, predates “La bamba” and takes a different but still highly romantic approach to the same subject of a flirtatious dancer and her admirer. Unlike Helguera, Jackman separates the male and female figures, giving him some room to scope her out. Elsewhere in the show, we can find brilliant work by a remarkably diverse cast of artists, from current Santa Barbara resident Angela Perko’s Mayan-influenced fantasy “Castillo” to the haunting portrait of a lady with a fan by Japanese-American modernist Sueo Serisawa. Visiting this show is sure to reawaken your romantic Fiesta dreams.
Picturing Old Spanish Days shows through August 28 at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, 11 East Anapamu Street.