SURFACE TREATMENT: “Master Prints” & “Años de Miedo”

“Master Prints” & “Años de Miedo”
May 22, 2010 12:04 AM
Nancy Moyer
The Monitor

Upon entering the gallery, the exhibit appears to be German Expressionist-inspired relief prints. Suddenly, a second room of prints offers a broader aesthetic base; it chronicles the artist’s witty romp through past Masters of art. Carlos Barberena exhibits two series, or portfolios, “Master Prints” & “Años de Miedo,” at the Art House. The works are all linocuts; both series are relevant.

“Años de Miedo” (Time of Fear) is the result of a ten-year project; it is a tribute to victims of war. The works are based on Barberena’s own memories and the collective historical memory of his country, Nicaragua. The violent decades of the 70’s and 80’s in Nicaragua ravaged that nation, environmentally and politically. By addressing warfare and its aftermath, he believes that his work is touching on a reality that presently exists in many countries.

“Llanto” Linocut by Carlos Barberena

The artist reflects on the effects left by war and how those experiences affect our lives, physically and psychologically. One group of prints explores facial expressions provoked by fear. Each print shows only the abstracted face of an anguished individual. Llanto portrays the face with tears, while Herido de Muerto captures a face during the final signs of life. With only one exception, these prints are white line cuts against a flat black ground, visually emphasizing the psychologically disturbing message of tragedy.
By injecting the darker issues of modern life into past artistic modes in the “Master Prints,” Barberena riffs off the old Masters. How would they have presented that painting/print today? Believing that they would share his concern for human injustices, environmental issues, and a world in need of common sense, he has reinvented a few artworks by well-known artists. Converting the original images into linocuts with impressive virtuosity, Barberena has added believable political or environmental issues.

“La McMona” Print by Carlos Barberena

In La McMona, Leonardo might have painted the Mona Lisa as a Calavera, or is death the answer to a diet of unhealthy fast food? Venus 2.0 (Botticelli’s Aphrodite) sports a respirator as pipes spewing industrial waste surround her shell. And what really might be causing Edvard Munch’s enigmatic figure to scream? Barberena’s The Scream suggests potential radiation from the mushroom cloud in the distance.

“Venus 2.0” Print by Carlos Barberena

Barberena collects images that relate to our collective memory; he references painful events that occurred in the history of Nicaragua as well as globally. “I hope never to become inactive nor esthetically dead during the period in which we are living,” he states. “I hope to react without fear in order to say what needs to be said in the moment it needs to be said.”

For this artist, art is a powerful form of communication for reflecting upon and questioning the issues of our contemporary society – the fears, the desires, the hopelessness, and sometimes even the nonsense.

Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art from UTPA, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at