Exhibition Pick: Luis Cruz Azaceta

Sarah Schacht looks at how Luis Cruz Azaceta addresses sociopolitical issues through his abstract paintings.

Luis Cruz Azaceta, ORLANDO, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans.

Luis Cruz Azaceta
Arthur Roger Gallery
432 Julia Street
March 4 - April 22, 2017

Luis Cruz Azaceta’s current show at Arthur Roger Gallery, “On The Brink,” makes a statement on contemporary social and political issues. But first, one might get distracted by the artist’s flashy abstract style. Azaceta’s process of stacking primary and secondary colors in the form of polygonal shapes is eye-popping. Azaceta was born and raised in Cuba, to whose vibrant culture one may attribute his neon color palette. However, underneath the splendorous, saturated surfaces of these works lie Azaceta’s social consciousness and deep concern for our collective humanity. “On The Brink” pays tribute to lives lost within various communities who are continually dehumanized by the relentlessly corrupt systems of power and privilege.

Rendered in acrylics, ORLANDO, 2016, contains 49 black dots—each identical in size, color, and form—over blocks and shards of bright blue, yellow, and pink. They signify the 49 people murdered in the hate crime at the gay nightclub Pulse in Florida last June. As these small dots trickle down the rainbow-color-schemed composition of shapes interacting, the viewer has no choice but to notice the dots and pause, recalling the disturbing act. In this instant, Azaceta brings awareness to the discrimination and violence against the queer community.

HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT-TULSA, 2016, refers to the murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African-American man killed by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in September 2016. The title alludes to the phrase Black Lives Matter protesters chanted in the outcry after the 2014 murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Distinct from other works on view in terms of color and space, this painting exhibits a simple yet powerful composition: In the upper right corner, a standing man frozen on a white background with his hands raised in the air is situated at the end of a road, illustrated by yellow and black lines stretching diagonally across the canvas. Inevitably, this image invites countless other stories of horrific police brutality to the front of our minds.

In a 2009 conversation with nola.com’s Doug MacCash, Azaceta explains why he emphasizes issues of politics and social justice in his art: “It’s to create a consciousness in the viewer…If you reach a few people, that’s the point of making art.” In 2017, Azaceta continues this fight—painting for social change in the hope of a better tomorrow.

Editor's Note

Sarah Schacht is a junior at Tulane University and is part of Pelican Bomb’s internship program with local undergraduate students.