Astrid Terrazas paints fantastic scenes with animals, signs, symbols –

Living with personified creatures and borrowed symbols, Astrid Terrazas’ canvases function like tarot cards, hazy assemblages of meanings that orbit around an iconic core. She fills her canvases with depictions of windows, tiles, stained glass and even other paintings, fracturing the picture plane with overlapping visual fields. The perspective is inconstant; some monochromatic backgrounds verge on the non-space of a diagram or book, while others capture the landscape in cross-section or recede through interconnecting portals.

This visual fluidity is found in the narratives of his paintings. Although the works contain biographical and historical allusions, they are open to interpretation and point to various mythologies, drawing iconography from Aztec codices, zodiac signs, and Mexican folk traditions. Terrazas often uses animals to evoke particular emotions and botanical designs to evoke both cancerous and benign growths. The bull, for example, is a recurring symbol of rage and anxiety. But Terrazas’ characterization remains sympathetic, framing the bull’s aggression as part of a cycle of antagonism and hurt.

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In auxin levels/tejiendo ojos (2020), Terrazas uses the self-portrait to reflect on her experience of taking anxiety medication, portraying herself as both a sitting girl and a raging bull. Here, the aggressiveness of the muscular creature is portrayed as the outward expression of an inner turmoil. The artist extends this compassion also to people, who sometimes appear with devil horns and angel wings.

A square painting depicts a bull with a human head on the left and, in an oval frame, another woman reading on the right.

Astrid Terrazas, auxin levels/tejiendo ojos2020, acrylic on canvas, 64 by 58 inches.
Courtesy of Astrid Terrazas

Slipping into these fantasy worlds, a viewer might miss the social and political concerns that permeate Terrazas’ visions. The artist indirectly references his work with the Ridgewood Tenants’ Union in la casa del Diablo, SE RENTA (2021), published in the collective exhibition “Recovery” at the P P O W Gallery in New York last fall. In the painting, a twisted pomegranate tree seems to siphon blood from a landscape of houses and fields through a single red vein. Lower in the composition, a devil walks along a spiral path towards a seed that threatens to turn into another parasitic growth. In the distance, spinning streams of blood flow to or from a grizzled stump, either feeding it or connecting it to something beyond the frame.

Cantando himnos en el jardín atrás de Walgreens (Singing Hymns in the Garden behind Walgreens, 2020) – the centerpiece of last summer’s six-person show “La Luz Proviene de Ahí” in Campeche in Mexico City — turns to assertiveness and caring as ways of resisting hate. In the right half of the canvas, sweaty, grape-like faces sway mournfully on twisted branches sprouting from a plot of land labeled ire. On the left, a woman stands at the center of twelve cellular shapes, each bearing its own icon: braided locks of hair, a flagellum, an IUD, or acupuncture needles. Unaffected by the jealous green faces, the woman focuses on her own body’s needs and cycles.

A horizontal painting is divided into a light blue color field on the right and a scene with a pink cow with a human head on the left.

Astrid Terrazas, A fruitful being, tú rana2020, acrylic on canvas, 44 by 69 inches.
Courtesy of Astrid Terrazas

Born in Juárez, where she lived until the age of seven, Terrazas also uses her paintings to record her family’s history – not only memories, traditions and shared dreams, but also family divisions caused by hostile border policies between the United States and Mexico. Familiar return (2020) looks behind an iron window grate in a church in Guanajuato, suggesting the inaccessibility of the sites of his childhood. A fruitful being, tú rana (2020) captures the psychological tenor of Terrazas’ separation from his mother. The latter is depicted as a colossal cow, her udders drooping from her belly, which unwittingly carries a child-sized human figure (Terrazas herself) on her back. On the right side of the canvas is a luminescent window whose blue hue echoes the colors of the nearby Mexican Lotería tarot card for La Rana (“the frog”), alluding to the artist’s childhood nickname. The cow turns her gaze to this azure portal, the world she imagines Terrazas inhabits, not recognizing how close her child’s spirit remains.

Terrazas’ latest project, which will be featured in his upcoming solo exhibition at the P P O W Gallery in September, presents geographic divisions in linguistic terms. The paintings function as monumental telephone games where proverbs, often culturally specific and almost impossible to translate, acquire new meaning. The hens have returned to roost (2022) features a pale female figure being attacked by blue chickens in a more literal take on the titular phrase. But behind the violent scene hover anatomical diagrams of the muscular and vascular systems, the skeleton and the brain, joined to other parts of the composition by painted braids of hair. The image transcends the latent recrimination in the original saying and suggests a phoenix link between life and death, as if the birds and the woman feed on each other, or are fed by, the vital ebbs and flows of the fragmented body.

Terrazas associates its new series with incantations and spiritual remedies practiced by it curandero ancestors. While she doesn’t actually attribute medicinal properties to the magic of acrylic on canvas, she sees painting as something that can shape and manifest new social realities.

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