"Retablo V" by Vladimir Cora.

A new gallery, with a focus contemporary Latin American art and artists, has joined Palm Springs’ growing Uptown Design District.

Jorge Mendez Gallery plans to bring “underrepresented (Latin American) artists” to the “underserved U.S. marketplace.” And if its current show, Contemporary Mexican Masters, portends future shows, Jorge Mendez Gallery will offer a great alternative to the often formulaic art found in other desert galleries.

Most gallery artists are representational, with a considerable number rooted in the figurative tradition. Contemporary Mexican Masters spotlights five artists, including Alberto Castro Lenero and Amador Montes, who were born in, were trained in and create their work in Mexico.

Vladimir Cora’s inspiration comes from his home in Nayarit, in western-central Mexico, and he has a distinctive style. First, he almost exclusively paints the human head and face. Second, he outlines each head to separate it from the background. Lastly, Cora’s works project an early cubist quality.

The artist’s large canvas, “Retablo V” (above), is more than an academic study of the human head and face. Cora—clearly referencing the devotional paintings frequently found in Latin America—brings more than 20 different-sized, triangular or oval-shaped heads and necks to the canvas.

Against a burnt-orange background, the artist outlines each face in black. His faces tend to be deeply tanned. Some, perhaps those in the shade, have a lightly applied blue wash. Using black paint, he produces indigenous-looking facial features. The hair, painted in a dark black, appears to define gender. Cora creates a sense of depth by varying the size and shadings of the heads, and sometimes having heads overlap. Each face projects a defined personality and mood. This keeps the painting fresh, interesting and not repetitive.

While “Retablo V” might be considered pensive, Cora’s women in his “Cabeza” series generally come across as far less serious. “Cabeza Con Fruitas” seems light hearted and, in some ways, carefree, with the oversized head taking up about 85 percent of the large canvas. The forward-facing model is front and center; avoiding the outward stare of her left eye and occluded right eye is difficult. Tropical fruits in greens, oranges and yellows create the appearance of an aura or halo. Caro illuminates his model from the left. Despite her having a green tinted face, she is approachable. The right, or shaded, side of the model’s face is neither attractive nor unattractive. It is, however, quite different from the left side of the painting. Here, the muddy dark-orange, brown and yellow paints result in a highly worked and dense complexion.

Armando Amaya’s sculptures offer a balance to the large canvases. His works, both in bronze and marble, are sensuous to the eyes; they invite touch. His sculptures are reminiscent of the classic female nude, as portrayed by many classical sculptors and painters.

When working with marble, Amaya demonstrates a real respect for the stone. He takes great care to bring out the marble’s smooth, subtle luster. In “Mirislava Acostada Flexionada,” a reclining female figure is stretching. Her arched back and outstretched arms, projecting way beyond her head, suggest that she has just yawned.

The experience with “Emelia Acostada Boca Arriba” is totally different. Here, Emelia lies on her back. His treatment of the soft marble produces a highly sensual sculpture: The nude seems to be sunbathing, totally relaxed and at ease.

Jazzamoart Vazquez’s paintings, while in some ways disparate, retain a common visual dynamic and technical adventurousness.

At first glance, “La Taberna de los Sueños Sincopados” (right), roughly translated as “The Tavern of the Syncopated Dreams,” seems like time-lapse photography. A blur of off-center brown and light-tan lines move toward the center of the canvas. The artist forces one’s eyes to take in the entire canvas, and what emerges is a highly complex portrayal of an active nightclub. The lines become the beamed ceiling, leading to a far wall that looks like an old Catholic Church with similarities to the Sistine Chapel. By using a fine paintbrush to apply deep-dark-brown paint, Vazquez creates sketch-like figures and forms. The canvas is a vibrant place for the eye to wander and revisit. 

With “Chencho Sax (Sax Dude)” (below), Vazquez pays homage to Francis Bacon by satirizing Bacon’s satirization of Diego Velázquez’s “Portrait of Pope Innocent X.”

In Velázquez’s original painting, a stately pope, positioned on a raised platform, sits on a throne-like chair. Both Vazquez and Bacon imitate Velázquez’s seating of the pope; however, their treatments of Innocent X differ greatly. Against a dark background, Bacon cordons off the pope in thick gold cord. A screaming pope appears imprisoned by vertical beams of murky purplish white lights; Bacon’s ominous and sardonic message cannot be avoided.

Vazquez’s reworks Bacon’s classic to make it his own. Through his active brushwork, Vazquez again ensures the eyes take in the entire canvas. Vazquez’s painting contains a clear political and social agenda, but his riff is biting and humorous. With the derogatory title “Chencho Sax,” we see austere pope reduced to an overweight, fat, ugly and scowling saxophone-playing commoner.

Contemporary Mexican Masters is on display at Jorge Mendez Gallery, 756 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, through Saturday, May 31. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday; and noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information, call 760-656-7454, or visit www.jorgemendezgallery.com.