Armando Lerma, known to many as a member of the former artist collective Date Farmers, offers a solo show of new work this month, in which he continues his experiments with augmented, manipulated hand-painted signs. His unique style blends vintage objects and traditionally derived motifs into a kind of post-Pop Chicano folk-art style, with a lively aesthetic and a profound core of commentary.
The show's quasi-cinematic title — written in full as “Eastern Projects Gallery Presents Armando Lerma in Rio Xanta” — gives it a classic Western flair, like an old Gary Cooper movie, and there’s a liminal storyline that’s part carny, part cowboy, a kind of escapism that is not really freedom.
Lerma’s appropriation of old signage — think classic Route 66–era Coca-Cola signs and roadside attractions — combines with original painting, mixed media and both historical and modern storylines. Swap meets, flea markets and fancy antique stores are stocked with widely collected old metal signs, which with their eccentric fonts, saturated colors and jaunty graphics are redolent of bygone, perhaps simpler times.
What was once just another corporate ad, made in the ordinary way, for Coca-Cola, say, or the local body shop gas station, diner or perhaps a traveling circus, becomes with time nostalgic. What was once something ordinary, that may even have been casually discarded, becomes a reclaimed treasure. In this way, much of Lerma’s source material is found objects, and as such each comes with a preloaded history, a backstory. The way Lerma treats those elements is to embrace, include, honor and incorporate their histories and former functions — because those elements speak to his own personal history, too.
Lerma’s aesthetic of adaptive reuse gives rise to a few different kinds of hybridizing, which he uses to express the relationship of mutual threat between man and nature. With aspects of archaeology and modernism, pop culture and blended heritages, street art and old-timey craftsmanship, exuberant palette and a dark surrealism of content and image, Lerma’s work engages and entertains, then educates.
Rio Xanta is on view at Eastern Projects Gallery, 900 N. Broadway, Chinatown. Tue.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; through Nov. 3, when there will be a closing reception from 6 to 10 p.m. easternprojectsgallery.com