Often you walk into an art exhibition and the work seems to exude a cool, careful, cerebral feel — a sense that what you're looking at has been finessed and tweaked and groomed to within a polished inch of its life. It feels safe. Expected.
You don't get that sense in Lemoore resident Jeannette L. Herrera's ferociously appealing retrospective at Arte Américas.
Her paintings in oil and acrylic are rowdy, funny, violent, tender, explosive and passionate. Fantastical creatures, Peruvian imagery, religious icons, sexual gyrations, unabashed nudity, street culture and personal trauma all swirl together into a colorful stew. Some of her paintings rollick with humor, others bristle with anger. Some manage to do both.
Consider her work "lemme splain," an angry woman with an exaggerated figure and sizable gun who is literally blowing the brains out of someone who has clearly wronged her.
Herrera explains: "I painted this after a relationship gone sour and it obviously spoke to a lot of people. Though the inspiration was not ideal, that painting makes people happy. They tell me their stories through lots of laughs, and somehow in a silly way the image makes them feel vindicated."
Her paintings are intense, no question. So was the attack on her in 2004 that changed her life and artistic career. She was walking home one night and never quite made it, as she puts it. She remembers waking up in an ambulance with her face rearranged and a skull fracture that ran from the top of her skull down through her sinuses.
"I don't remember the actual attack and I'm more than OK with that," she says. "It's nothing I like to retell or think about too much in depth."
The attacker went to prison for seven years.
For her, the aftermath was tough. She'd always had issues with social anxiety, but after her ordeal she shut herself off from the world. Herrera saw no one but her children, and "even then I wouldn't let them see me until my face was healed." Suffering from terrible insomnia, she discovered that painting — which she'd loved when she was younger — helped fill the hours and crowd out the anxiety.
"What seemed like cute or adorable images to other people were things in my head I really needed to work out," she says. "For some time it was important for me to try to paint the night I couldn't remember. And even though it never got further than a blue background it was enough for me to get it in my head finally to move on."
The show at Arte includes works that span the 10 years since the attack.
Those years encompass a steady rise in her career, which has had a strong East Coast focus. (She recently followed her boyfriend, who is in the Navy, to Lemoore.) Signed in 2010 by Alida Anderson Arts in Washington, D.C., she's been featured in a number of big-deal shows, including Art Basel in Miami Beach. At opening night of a group show at the renowned ChimMaya Gallery in Los Angeles, three of her pieces were bought by Cheech Marin, who has the largest private collection of Chicano art in the world.
The Marin connection led to shows at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and the Las Cruces Museum of Art, and she's booked nationally at museums through next year.
Many of the works in Herrera's Arte show are laugh-out-loud funny, whether it's a painting in which she adapts one of those "It's hotter than …" urban slang tropes by depicting two rats fornicating in a wool sock or imagining Pinocchio in a trippy dream about the fantastical Medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch.
But what draws me most to this show is the intensity and the spontaneity. The life, you could say.
"I'm definitely that person who wears her heart on her sleeve," she says. "So whether it's the love I feel, anxiety, joy, anger or sadness — it's often not even a complete thought without putting it down on canvas."
Don't miss my extended interview with Herrera on www.fresnobeehive.com.
In memory of Frank Mosier
The Lively Arts Foundation, which has added much over the decades to the cultural fabric of our Valley, lost one of its co-founders last month. I want to pause for a moment and remember Frank Moffett Mosier, who died on June 13 at the age of 85.
Mosier, who founded Lively Arts in 1989 with his wife, Diane, the organization's longtime artistic director, is perhaps best known locally for writing the librettos to several Central California Ballet productions, including "The Nutcracker," "Alice in Wonderland," "Beauty and the Beast" and a "cat ballet" titled "Pas de Chats."
"Frank was so incredibly creative," his wife remembers. "His feet hardly touched the ground except when he was planting flowers."
He had an impressive career in New York theater long before moving to Fresno, including membership in the Actors' Studio Playwrights' group and the New Dramatists, a six-year stint as managing director of The Actor's Place at St. Luke's and a seat on the original board of directors of the Off-Off-Broadway Alliance.
He was justifiably proud that his "Nutcracker: The Mouse Queen's Revenge" is closer to the original E.T.A. Hoffman version of the classic tale than, say, the George Balanchine version that become popular in the second half of the 20th century. Frank Mosier's version, which he tweaked over the decades, beefed up the roles of both the Mouse Queen and Mouse King.
It will be performed for the 24th season this coming December at the Saroyan Theatre.
A Fresno memorial service will be held in October, with details to come, his wife says.
IF YOU GO
Jeannette L. Herrera retrospective, through Aug. 17, Arte Américas, 1630 Van Ness Ave. www.arteamericas.org, (559) 266-2623. Free.
Herrera will lead an artist's talk and question-and-answer session at Arte Américas 2-4 p.m. July 27.