"German Raspa" by Ricky Armendariz.
"German Raspa" by Ricky Armendariz.

Graffiti and street art are two of the main influences for works in “Back from Berlin,” an exhibition featuring art from the first batch of artists participating in Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum‘s Berlin Residency Program. The opening reception is Thursday, 6 p.m., at Blue Star.

During this inaugural year of the program, a cycle of four artists each stayed for three months in Berlin, Germany. The residency, which offers living and studio space for the artists, is in partnership with Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a non-profit organization known for offering residencies and exhibitions to international contemporary artists. The Berlin Residency Program has been facilitated by Dr. Anjelika Jansen, who also guest-curated the show.

These Bexar County artists were jury-selected to live and work in Berlin and receive a $2,000 travel stipend. The work featured in the exhibition was either made during their residency or shortly after their return.

2013-2014 Berlin Residency Program participants (from left) Ricky Armendariz, Karen Mahaffy, Vincent Valdez and Cathy Cunningham-Little. Photo courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.
2013-2014 Berlin Residency Program participants (from left) Ricky Armendariz, Karen Mahaffy, Vincent Valdez and Cathy Cunningham-Little. Photo courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.

Jack McGilvray, Blue Star’s exhibitions and programs manager, provided a run-through of the works on exhibit, which are grouped by artist. A separate room features a video about the residency program and artist interviews as well as graffiti-inspired work by MOSAIC, Blue Star’s high school educational program, mentored by local artist Alex Rubio.

While in Berlin, Karen Mahaffy visited a museum that was once a political prison.  Mahaffy was inspired by the traces of beauty she found in an otherwise shadowy place – decorative patterns on linoleum tile and old wallpaper.

Karen Mahaffy
Karen Mahaffy

Mahaffy covered Blue Star’s entry stairs with orange, fuchsia, and blue decorative paper. The wallpaper-inspired design, combined with geometrical patterns, provides an intricate, beautiful surprise amidst the industrial, concrete surroundings. Decadent drips of gold spray paint cover the wood armature’s screws. Mahaffy installed the piece last week, in order to give it time to age, like the way street art deteriorates over time, on walls and electrical boxes, layer over layer, peeling away over time, revealing the past beneath it. Other works featured by Mahaffy include a digital video and animation and digital prints.

"Requiem" by Vincent Valdez.
“Requiem” by Vincent Valdez.

Vincent Valdez contributed two large paintings, a drawing on canvas, and a group of sketches. Valdez produced work that is largely affected by the change of context he experienced while in Berlin. For example, he painted a huge eagle that appears to be either floating suspended or dead in space, and another image of a partially burned American flag. These images are not only influenced by German political iconography, but how political imagery is treated in the German culture.   

Ricky Armendariz was enchanted by the folklore and fairy tales that he found embedded into surrounding sculpture and architecture in Germany. He created oil on carved plywood paintings and woodblock prints, combined with graffiti, in collaboration with San Antonio artist Christopher Montoya. In these two relief woodblock prints, German (top image) and Russian tanks (below) are rendered in a manner that bears a resemblance to the linear patterns on paper currency. 

"Russian Raspa" by Ricky Armendariz.
“Russian Raspa” by Ricky Armendariz.

The green and red colors he used also reflect the color of money, and this is juxtaposed with the street-art inspired background. Armendariz also was influenced by the remnants of war, such as stray bullet holes that remain in the city’s sculptures and monuments.

Cathy Cunningham-Little, who works with light, created five pieces that are installed in the back gallery space. Cunningham-Little made the templates for these pieces while in Berlin. Some of her work reflects the Constructivist movement from the 1920s. Each light piece consists of a complex array of colors in varying shapes and patterns that appear on the wall as if by magic.

"Architectural Tektonic 1" Cathy Cunningham-Little Photo by Nancy Moyer.
“Architectural Tektonic 1” Cathy Cunningham-Little Photo by Nancy Moyer.

The methods that Cunningham-Little uses to create her colored patterns appear deceptively simple. Acrylic plates are mounted perpendicular to the wall. LED white light shines through coated glass panels that are set in precise locations. When the light shines through these devices, colored light gets projected onto the wall, and the orientation of these panels combines the light rays to create varying combinations of colors.

The 2013-2014 Blue Star Contemporary Berlin Residency Program was supported by the City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Palo Alto College1010 South Flores Lofts and 1111 Austin Highway Lofts.

The second cycle of artists selected for the Berlin Residency Program includes Justin Boyd, Chris Sauter, Adriana Corral and Jessica Halonen.

Back from Berlin” will run from March 5 to May 10. 

*Featured/top image: “German Raspa” by  Ricky Armendariz.

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Wendy Weil Atwell is a writer living in San Antonio, Texas. She received her MA in Art History and Criticism from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2002. Atwell is the author of The River Spectacular...