Artist examines changing Brownsville community

If Brownsville had a shared visual language, how would you describe it?

Something where the people who live here would know at a glance, “ah yes, that comes from here, that is of here.” What happens then when this visual shorthand evolves into something that, like your reflection in a fun-house mirror, is both familiar and not?

For local Brownville painter Gabriel Trevino, this forms the central theme of his new solo exhibition “Border to Mars” now on display at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.

Trevino, trained under renowned artist Carlos Gomez at the University of Texas at Brownsville, has spent 20 years documenting through his own visual and often abstracted language—life along the US-Mexico border.

Following his previous series focusing on the symbol of the tortilla maker, Trevino says the roots of this new series came from the changes in the community around him as SpaceX moved into the region. The way the community responded and the differences he saw in the city piqued his interest as an artist to re-examine the familiar. As the city changes, he says, what happens to how we see and understand the culture around us?

“What would Brownsville look like 10 to 30 years from now? Perhaps the iconography we are so comfortable with will no longer be there,” he said.

Through this large-scale series of 26 paintings, some spanning several connected panels, Trevino is exploring what this new future might look like visually. Of this work, Trevino says it is something he has seen other local artists explore in the past few years with the arrival of SpaceX and the prospect of reaching Mars.

“That’s where the title comes from because our perception changes from being on the border to something more universal and geared to a future that is very unrecognizable to a lot of us,” he said.

In his work, the future is a vibrant mix of colors through media acrylics, oil pastels, and acrylic spray paint that conveys a time neither good nor bad—just beyond the comprehension of the ‘we’ that are viewing it in the present moment.

Trevino says part of creating the work for the exhibition involved a conscious decision to disassemble the iconography that his audience might expect when seeing his work.

Pieces like “Border” best embody this new language. The painting covers several 42-inch by 35-inch connected panels offering the viewer an array of image fragments, almost like a corrupted digital image file—interrupted and covered with vertical swaths of color. There is no one place for the viewer to land—leading to a perpetual search for the familiar that is ultimately futile outside the viewer’s memory of Trevino’s past work.

“The removal of the culture we understand and know is now what is missing in the artwork,” Trevino said of the exhibition’s overall theme.

“Border to Mars” is on display at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art through Nov. 4. There will be an opening reception for the exhibition at noon on Saturday, Oct. 8. At the museum.

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