ArtXchange show gives a sense of depth, breadth of Latino art in the NW

“!Sense Us!” group show at Seattle’s ArtXchange, includes Latino and Latina painters and photographers whose work ranges from photorealism to shadowy abstraction.

The punning title of “!Sense Us!” — ArtXchange and La Sala’s new group show — refers to the upcoming 2010 census and the need for Latino and Latina artists to register their presence in our local arts scene.

But the show itself, far from presenting a unified voice, has a 10-fold resonance. The quality of the work generally is high. Preferences for one artist over another will depend entirely on whether your taste inclines toward reportage or reverie, the colorful or the somber, the mysterious or the whimsical.

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Nicaragua-born Marcio Díaz’s acrylics on canvas make the biggest splash, in terms of both color and the balance he strikes between figurative and abstract.

His painting method is a bright-hued variation on the pointillism of Seurat, building an image from vibrant circles of color. But the colors don’t entirely coalesce into readily recognizable forms.

“Walking with Her Shadow” is a beautiful example. Two similar shapes — female figures? — seem to glide through a buoyant fizz of tints and shades. One is “clad” in glowing red; the other is a silhouette of browns and muted greens. The tensions between shimmer and almost-solid objects are exquisite.

Pedro De Valdivia, from Pasco, mixes figurative and abstract in a different way. “Padre Pio 16 years” (acrylic on canvas) seems taken from a photograph portraying a future priest who, at 16, was clearly older than his years.

His face is realistically rendered, but the colors and patterns surrounding and intersecting with it lend his features an otherworldly glow.

De Valdivia does something similar with a traditional Madonna image in “Hanging by a Thread,” and in “Skulls 1-13” — small Day-of-the-Dead variations, some so elaborate in color and pattern they don’t immediately register as skulls.

Juan Alonso, who, in the past, has favored Díaz’s and De Valdivia’s bright palette, is in a gray-black mood in “Shaft,” “Subterranean” and “Underground.”

These ink-and-graphite-on-claybord pieces are forbidding at first. But the claybord makes for a strange, shifting, alluring surface that has eye-tricking, palimpsest qualities. Still, there’s no denying Alonso is probing ominous territory.

On the photojournalistic front, Wanda Benvenutti and Carlos Rodríguez both deliver fine work. Benvenutti’s focus is on Puerto Rican life in the U.S., and her portraits of everyday people are framed to cut right to the essence of her subjects.

“Caleb Cuevos,” portraying firemen resting from an angle that slyly lets the viewer sink right into the men’s fatigue, is an especially inspired shot.

Rodríguez’s camera is trained on boxing-gym action in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood, with a focus on how tender-tough kids are shaped by the rituals of the ring.

Jennifer Arlem Molina’s color shots of Mazatlán offer a social critique as they examine what it means to make a modest living in a beach resort. There’s a matter-of-fact stoicism to her sombrero seller, street musician and taxi driver — although her lottery lady looks ready to call it quits.

Mexican-American photographer Almendra Sandoval, by contrast, explores softer light and dreamier territory, most notably in “Sobre el Agua,” in which a female nude seemingly walks on water.

J.P. Flores’ digital inkjet photo-collages play still more with the medium. “Transfigurations 4 of 6” is from a series in which, with digital magic, he transforms himself by stages into his father. Too bad the whole series isn’t here.

Works by Laura Castellanos and Justin Mata are less impressive to my eye — but perhaps they’ll have their advocates. Certainly with Díaz, De Valdivia and Sandoval, ArtXchange and La Sala have provided excellent introductions to rising artists.

Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am to 5:30 pm
Open First Thursdays until 8pm for the Pioneer Square Artwalk