Layered Perspectives: Lyle Carbajal's Multi-Media Installation Broaches the Profound through the Mundane

By Burd, Sara Lee | Afro - Hispanic Review, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Layered Perspectives: Lyle Carbajal's Multi-Media Installation Broaches the Profound through the Mundane


Burd, Sara Lee, Afro - Hispanic Review


Vibrant, large-scale paintings hung closely along the walls of Tinney Contemporary appeared like subversive, graffiti covered streets rather than a sleek white-walled art gallery in Nashville, Tennessee. Within this newly conceived space resides a miniature meat market, Mexican boxing bags, a church marquee, and a film projecting spliced scenes of meat carving and urban detritus with accompanying chaotic sounds of the city all serving to elevate the commonplace to shrines. It is clear that Lyle Carbajal is not interested in presenting idealized beauty of the world around him as much as creating an authentic way to process and present what he sees and experiences.

The artist collects and extracts images and ideas from everyday life to create art that acknowledges the ever-present anthropological patterns that traverse history and place, while also playing with the post-modern lesson that signs and signifiers have fluid meanings. Many of his works feature unique human figures created by combining mass-produced materials such as paint, balloons, and printed paper that elicit connotations of the commodification of culture and of individuals.

Carbajal addresses race, disparity, and identity politics because he himself is of Hispanic descent living in a predominantly white culture. His art is not overtly confrontational, rather the artist simply invites the viewer to see what he sees, which in and of itself can be quite a stretch depending on the viewer's experience with Carbajal's cultural references. Using free form and primitive style allows the artist to evoke the immediacy of everyday life while also presenting the complex perspective of an "other."

While tightly tied to biography, Carbajal clearly communicates universal concepts and inspires the viewer's mind and eye. I interviewed Carbajal shortly after his show at Tinney Contemporary in Nashville to find out more about the man behind the worldview.

Sara Lee Burd: You were born in Los Angeles, lived in both Mexico City and Buenos Aires and have been a man of the world ever since. Your Hispanic heritage is evident in your art but you do not hesitate to combine imagery, mix cultures, and break political, social, and religious boundaries. What role does biography play in your art?

Lyle Carbajal: An exhibition in Seattle a few seasons back billed me as "peripatetic"-a roving artist if you will. As I think back, the moniker made sense and now trails the question. My lifestyle and biography coupled with travel has and will always play a role in what I'm doing. A kid of the seventies; Los Angeles in my earliest recollections mashed bits and pieces of everything from van-murals to skateboards; Alvarado street and dim sums to film-lots, disco and hard-rock. The mass-media cacophony that will always be Hollywood was among my earliest of experiences. It's about "what I remember" and "what I now bump into". So much of what I see, (considered mundane or banal by some) I set aside and label a sign. In my installation, which acts as a kind of criticism-street markets in Juarez and New Orleans snowball shacks-marry. This is what I was thinking about while developing "romancing banality"-a mash-up of things I've seen and cities I've visited. The cultural and religious signifiers I borrow are from my recollections and travels while I continue asking myself sharp questions regarding integration and segregation and their social economic consequences. But to some critics-some "art" critics when discussing Materialism and Pop Art, note that art coupled with popular culture collapses onto each other canceling out any real societal criticism.

Perhaps, this is why I attempt to "connect" through biography. Personal documentation imparts 'meanings' and 'stories' that exist behind the installations. Instead of relying on parody or pastiche, I attempt to construct something palpable, comprised of personal accounts with structures, people, and everyday culture from around the world. …

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