I first saw José Luis Carranza’s work at Noche de Arte(Night of Art), an annual event put on by the U.S. Embassy in Peru that celebrates the work of artists living in Peru, both Peruvian and other.  Among the many typically traditional works, Carranza’s grotesque painting of a goat in the woods caught my eye immediately.  His paintings are both irresistibly attractive and undeniably repulsive.  His use of bold primary colors and speedy brushwork are quite unique, so when I came by his work again a few months later at Yvonne Sanguinetti Gallery in Lima, I recognized it immediately.  This week we met in his studio to discuss his work and contemporary art in Lima.

José Luis Carranza was born in Lima, Peru in 1981.  A figurative painter trained at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes del Peru, a school known for its strict adherence to classical technical training, he is very familiar with the grand classical tradition of painting.  He has spent years studying the techniques of the masters of the Renaissance, Rubens and Goya for example.  In 2009 he won the National Passport Contest held by the French embassy in Peru and spent much of last year in France, learning French and studying the works of the European masters.

Yet as a painter of the 21-century, he is also a big fan of the American painter Dana Schutz and German Neo Rauch.   Like these two painters, José works within a traditional mode of expression to discuss contemporarily relevant themes: the fracturing of religion and politics, the aggressive clashing of cultures created by globalization, our immersion in an environment of violence.  He believes that in today’s world we experience “violence from birth” and that we live without rules.  Though obsessed with the techniques of the classical tradition, and the allegorical use of mythologies, he also incorporates a contemporary sense of abandon into his painting style.  José approaches each new painting blankly, with no sketches, and paints from his mind, allowing mysterious things to emerge from each canvas.

As we spoke we sat facing a painting in progress.  This new painting depicts several simultaneous narratives.  On the right we find two men, both in a trance yet in conflict with each other.  On the left side he has depicted a figure soaking in a swamp, held down by another figure, wings sprouting from his spine, a stalk of wheat in his mouth.  Around them are flying birds of prey and slithering serpents. This referencing of both biblical and Incan symbols is characteristic to his work.  Though far from Nationalistic, the paintings illustrate the mixing of cultures found in Peru, and throughout the world.

The figures in his paintings are based on the images of his relatives functioning as stand-ins for “every man”.  All his figures, men, women and animals, share similar characteristics.  Skin is often painted as broken and fluid, and he thinks of these characters as only partially formed, still undergoing the process of creation.  The settings, usually forest or jungle, are painted in a similarly thin and fluid style, indicating a wild and uncivilized environment. Through his work he presents a world undergoing physical and spiritual transformation, a state so familiar to us, that we can’t help but be engaged, spellbound even in front of these mesmerizing paintings.

After taking part in several shows last year in Europe, Carranza is currently preparing for a November solo show at Enlace Gallery in Lima.  Next month he will have a few works on view in the Museum of the Americas in Miami, and I expect it won’t be long before we are seeing work from this rising star in New York as well.   To see more images by José Luis Carranza please visit his website.

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