'Seeing is Believing' during Surrealist exhibition at Sparks Gallery

There’s no need for LSD or magic mushrooms to take a mind trip at the new Surrealism show Seeing is Believing. Opening at Sparks Gallery on Jan. 6, the exhibition features 30+ paintings, photographs, sculptures and drawings sprung from the inner minds of 21 SoCal artists.

Surrealism began in the 1920s as a cultural force in literature, cinema and art that explored the unconscious mind and challenged the laws of reason and logic. Full of jarring juxtapositions, irrationality and biomorphic forms, Surrealism digs into dreams and puts inner thoughts on display. Seeing is Believing is an exciting visual journey which provokes conscious perceptions of reality with what is possible in the realm of imagination.

PACIFIC caught up with two of the show’s artists to find out more about their eye-catching Surrealist pieces.

PERRY VASQUEZ

PACIFIC: Fans of Salvador Dali will love and relate to your work, was he a strong artistic influence in your career?

PERRY VASQUEZ: In 2005, I travelled to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a Dali retrospective. A work titled Impressions of Africa caught my eye. In the lower left hand corner, Dali paints himself at his easel, reaching his hand out towards the viewer. By casting his hand in the light it seemed to emerge right out of the picture plane. That painting floored me and I vowed to learn his secrets. That was the beginning of my obsession with Dali's life and work.

Your Gates of Heck is a wonderfully detailed piece with superheroes like Spider Man juxtaposed with villains like Osama Bin Laden and Harry Potter’s Voldemort. Along with military imagery, is this a glimpse into your inner mind? A subconscious — and conscious — commentary on the battle between good and evil?

Thank you. I'm aware of the conscious but not the unconscious commentary. The inspiration for the painting springs from literary and artistic sources. The literary source is Dante's epic medieval Christian poem, The Divine Comedy. The poem consists of three parts, or canticles; Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.

The Gates of Hell appear in Inferno with the famous inscription, "Abandon hope all who enter here." The Inferno tells Dante's journey through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil.

In my painting, Virgil is replaced by Spiderman. My idea to cast superheroes as protagonists and antagonists in the Underworld was just a whim I had one day. My wife suggested I call it The Gates of Heck which was a nice piece of irony.

The Gates of Heck has grown beyond the painting to include music and performance as well. Anyone who is interested can find out more about The Gates of Heck on my Bandcamp page  or on my website PerryVasquez.com.

What is it about Surrealism that is so captivating to artists and viewers alike?

The lure of classical Surrealism has to do with the exploration of the unconscious mind, as well as the slippery connections between words, images and meaning. Artists like myself love the open-ended play between signs and symbols in our paintings. I think viewers like paintings that reward close inspection. In the case of The Gates of Heck, the weaving of Dante's themes with superhero themes into a fantasy world somehow works.

SILVIU NICA

PACIFIC: Your faces are mesmerizing. Looking at them, a viewer can viscerally feel their own face and imagine it morphing into something else. What is the inspiration?

SILVIU NICA: The inspiration behind this series of drawings were the shapes of organic structures like roots, rocks, etc. combined with human anatomical parts recreating a new structure which I call polymorph. The central concept is that of metamorphosis. It's basically saying that we are one with the natural world surrounding us. Like (French chemist) Antoine Lavoisier brilliantly summarized it: "In nature, nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes."

How long does it take you to create these faces? Does it just come out in force or does it require careful planning (with all of the hatching)?

I typically create the drawings with multiple layers, working on each layer separately. It could take me from one week to one month to finish the work. I start with a basic idea and a rough sketch and I improvise along the way.

What is it about Surrealism that is so captivating to artists and viewers alike?

I like surrealism because of its endless possibilities, I could recreate a new world without a very restrictive set of rules.

Which Surrealist artist of the past or present has been your greatest personal influence/inspiration?

One of my favorite contemporary artists is Christian Rex van Minnen. I admire his impeccable technique and thematic boldness.

Exhibited artists include: Alexander Arshansky, Michele Benzamin-Miki, Eric Blau, Ron Carlson, Larry Caveney, David Cuzick, Stacy D’Aguiar, Polly Jacobs Giacchina, Evgeniya Golik, Daniel Ketelhut, Dean MacAdam, Maidy Morhous, Gloria Muriel, Silviu Nica, Minghua Nie, Christopher Polentz, Marissa Quinn, Cheryl Tall, Perry Vazquez, Brady Willmont, Eric Wixon.

Seeing is Believing

When: Jan. 6 to April 8 with an opening reception from 6-9 p.m. Jan. 6 that will benefit local nonprofit Traveling Stories.

Where: 530 Sixth Ave., downtown

More info: 619-696-1416, sparksgallery.com

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