Working with the genre of narrative paintings, Phoenix-based artist Larry Madrigal shows us how the quotidian can often contain moments of intrigue, complexity and beauty. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, a large part of the Mexican-American's artist's current practice was influenced by the time he was catapulted into parenthood two weeks before he started his MFA program in 2017. “I always have a lot on my mind, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between meaningfulness and meaninglessness, wonder and boredom, the duality of drudgery and amusement,” Larry tells It’s Nice that. “I think being a parent can ironically bring us out of the monotony of life, and for a moment remind us of the miracle we participate in. Our short years ahead of children somehow eclipse the intense reality of being.”
Larry started making figurative paintings after working closely with Jerry and Anne Schutte at Arizona State university. He feels that by painting what’s in front of him, he is able to deal with both the ephemeral and the concrete simultaneously rather than veering off into a rabbit hole of concepts. “I learned quickly that painting and figuration fit perfectly with my disposition. I’m a scatter-minded person and I like how chaotic or linear the process can be,” he says. “Perhaps on the surface I’m most connected to the history of genre painting. Every generation has those who depict current quotidian life and if they get lucky, also captivate the interest of the critical art world at large.”
However, in order for this depiction of daily life to become more than mere documentation, the artwork needs to be infused with vitality, a spirit of its own. For some, this comes from visual decisions that align with the contemporary art undercurrent. For others like Larry, he attributes the “signature” found in his work to the attitude or character towards the themes that interest him. “I truly believe that if I keep things as personal and genuine as possible, I would end up with something truly special whether it’s entirely unique or not. I don’t want to busy myself with such worrying. We all come from somewhere anyway, right?” he says. “That being said, I am probably most known for my emphasis on the contemporary daily rhythms, parenthood and the awkwardness of life as my primary subject matter. But, as I prepare for my show, I recently noticed how I am fluctuating between depictions of public and private spaces, both intimate and interpersonal arrangement of figures.”
Larry calls his paintings ambassadors for himself, a way for him to be perceived as a real person, which he does by suspending seemingly meaningless moments and saturating them with contemplation. This is also translated in the expressive marks that he uses, something he considers to be part of the performance aspect of painting that he values. As he bounces between struggling through a painting and moments of confidence, his strokes alternate between minute movements to those with virtuosic confidence. “Sometimes, the entire painting is a struggle and the marks are mere evidence of reworking over and over again, like a violent dance,” he says.
“Although I may begin paintings with an idea of a particular memory or situation, I need to allow the painting to guide me in the important task of infusing it with that spark of life,” Larry notes. “If I can somehow sprinkle my paintings with that mere sense of magnificence, I would be happy! But that is the challenge. I want my recent work to vibrate between the familiar and the marvellous. I think more about ways to play with this idea through light, composition, symbolism, movement and other devices without losing the realist component.” With an untitled solo exhibition coming up at Nicodim Gallery in October, Larry adds that he plans to continue chasing the unattainable goal of making a painting that feels like it has a soul trapped inside.
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Larry Madrigal: New Beginnings (Copyright © Larry Madrigal, 2020)
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.