LOS ANGELES — When my Uber driver nears my destination on a sunny weekday afternoon, he tells me, “This is where all the good tacos are. And all the good birria.” We do, after all, pass Birrieria Baldomero, with its red-orange exterior. But our destination takes us to a mostly nondescript building I only recognize from its sign: Tlaloc Studios.
Tucked into a residential block in Historic South-Central, the 3,700-square-foot space was previously known as the Dalton Warehouse until anti-gentrification protestors made their criticism known. Founder Ozzie Juarez gave it new life, and now 13 artists make art in the space. A dedicated area displays the work of artists, salon-style. Depending on the exhibition, there might be work from the resident artists on the walls. But generally, the works run the gamut from up-and-coming names to artists already established in the gallery world (for example, the show includes work from Shizu Saldamando, whose solo exhibition Respira, at Charlie James Gallery, recently closed).
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Curated by Tlaloc Studios and Los Angeles-based artist Hely Omar Gonzalez, Retrato features works around the theme of portraiture and considers the many ways in which an artist can create a portrait — of people, of course, but also places. Some scenes veer into the surreal, while others reflect common LA markers, like the tall palm trees in Tidawhitney Lek’s linocut “Meet Me at the Beach” or the hand-painted auto body sign and chain-link fence in Janeth Aparcio’s mixed media drawing, “Mantis Religiosa en Camino a La Amapola.” Other scenes capture intimate moments, as seen in both of Genavee Gomez’s expertly detailed oil on canvas portraits, as well as Kiara Aileen Machado’s “Regalitos de mama,” another focus on a femme body, but with allusions to heritage and family history also rendered in its composition. The endearing figures of Sydnie Jimenez’s “Twizzy,” standing on a pedestal, encourage a closer look because of their varied, textured surface (and the pair’s undeniable coolness).
Not all portraits need to involve the portrayal of a body, of course, and Dulcito Soledad’s bright and cheerful “Bolsote (piñata de la Calle),” makes that clear. The piece made me nostalgic for childhood bus rides, where the bag you used to carry your groceries or lunch for work showed a peek of who you might be as a person. At the end of a hallway, Fatima Nieto’s “Muñeca Chingona,” a plexiglass and plexiglass-mirror figure, reflects the viewer back to themselves. The piece looks so at home on this particular strip of wall, removed slightly from the rest of the show, that I double-check if it’s part of the show or a permanent fixture. It’s the former, of course, and when I photograph it, I capture my own likeness.
The effectiveness of the group exhibition lies in the way it surveys up-and-coming as well as established artists in a way that feels authentic. You can find plenty of alternative spaces in Los Angeles, but walking into Tlaloc Studios’ no-fuss exhibition space, the focus clearly stays on the art. There’s a car parked nearby, and someone chatting away on the phone when I visit. This isn’t the type of art space where you can meander in after getting a couple of cocktails at an IG-photo-ready bar. A visit requires more intention. A QR code is the only signage, which isn’t always ideal for all art visitors, but seems par for the course in an increasingly digital age. Waiting for my ride at the end of my visit, the only sounds were a dog barking in the distance, an engine being revved nearby.
Retrato continues at Tlaloc Studios (447 East 32nd Street, Historic South-Central, Los Angeles) through June 10, 2022. The exhibition was curated by Tlaloc Studios and Hedy Omar Gonzalez.