In yesterday’s artist talk with painter Max Gleason, guests were treated to an inside look at some of Gleason’s work and the process and symbolism behind it. Among other paintings, Gleason discussed in depth a work titled “Wish You Were Here,” a portrait of Mexican-American vineyard workers which is part of Silo118’s current show Stepping Into the Unknown (on view through September 13).
In contrast to some of his other works, Gleason described this piece (the fourth that he’s created of workers from his family’s Santa Ynez vineyard) as “much more…classic portraiture, trying to convey the essence and the psychology of the subjects.” In this and other vineyard paintings, he painted “just the faces and the hands, because the guys up there had these really awesome rugged stoic looks and then their hands are really cool and gnarly because they are working with their hands all day.” Gleason also noted, “I don’t really enjoy painting clothing or backgrounds much--I’m really only into faces and figures and flesh so I just eliminate that stuff.”
Gleason explains that this piece was done “from a photo that my dad sent me when he went to Mexico with these guys. Most of [them] work on our vineyard and he sent this photo and I thought it was just very cool, sort of iconic, almost like from another time kind of feeling…and then Bonnie happened to stop by my studio when I was in process on that one and said ‘I want to do this show on immigrants, the political climate around that right now,’ so I took that and pushed it a bit more in a political direction. I have some elements there on the table in front: there’s a map of North America--it’s pre Mexican American War, there’s also an olive branch, there’s a machete. There are these symbolic elements that bring to life the issues around Mexicans or Mexican Americans or immigrants.” Gleason also shared that the lion on the wine bottle represents strength or courage, which is necessary to address the issues the painting deals with, and that its inclusion was tongue-in-cheek, playing with the phrase “liquid courage.”
Guests also learned about the meaning of the title “Wish You Were Here,” which “operates on two different levels, first with the aesthetics, [the figures are] sort of there and sort of not, also because…even though these guys are over here--they’ve become citizens, they’ve found this work--part of their family is back in Mexico.”
Gleason commented, “I think [these issues are] very topical right now, especially living in California. These folks are here, they work really hard, they’re growing our food, so the fact that anybody would want to marginalize them or vilify them or make them feel illegal I think is really disturbing, so I wanted to touch on a couple of those ideas with that piece.”