A Mise en scène from the Future: Interiors by Samuel Iztueta.

(Lizzie Frasco)

Samuel Iztueta is an artist who envisions his paintings well in advance. As he stated recently, every detail is preconceived; only he knows exactly when the work is complete. Though certain blocks of colors or angles may change throughout the process, the end result is a vision from inside the artist’s mind. In his recent series of interiors now at BrassWorks Gallery, Iztueta’s imagination has run amuck. In The Red Studio I and II from 2018, the artist fills stylish, Mid-century Modern rooms with a range of suggestive detail: frozen computer screens, empty chairs, a foreboding black cat, and even a man in the midst of a curdling scream. Despite the cheery pinks and oranges in many of his paintings, the impression of tropical escapism is temporary. Though his bright scenes suggest movie sets or ‘staged’ homes, they often hide more sinister realities, including the artist’s own struggle with chronic pain. In his most recent interior, Red Studio V, Iztueta allegorizes the persistent existence of human trafficking in a day and age when it should have been eradicated by advancements in surveillance technology.

Cultural referents scattered throughout his work provide insight into his mindset. In a portrait of a ‘mod’-style beach chair entitled The Time Machine (Among Other Things) from 2016, Iztueta includes a stack of books in the lower right with the titles visible: Francis Bacon (1968), Ernst Turpin, “Picasso at Work” (MoMA 1971), Basquiat, and “The World of Rembrandt.” This stack, spanning the 17th century to the present, reveals the depth of the artist’s knowledge as well as his desire to align himself with such great figurative artists. Iztueta also appears to reference David Hockney in certain bright green spaces in Red Studio II and III; the elevated back area of Red Studio IV also features a foreshortened Donald Trump stumbling in a fractured environment. These shifting spaces, which transition seamlessly from swimming pools to indoor gardens, depth and perspective are manipulated to force the viewer to question what is inside and what is outside. A wall behind the fallen Trump featuring a set of blinds and a modernist painting further suggests the ‘real’ world outside these miniature spaces, which operate as fantasy.

With influences as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Game of Thrones, and the artwork of his creative daughter Alice, Iztueta has built maquettes of altered reality. The artist’s distortions allow the viewer to meditate on larger issues that have permeated the average American home at this point. This cacophony of references bespeaks the artist’s fascination with art, culture, and the act of painting: Iztueta choreographs the history of art as if it were the set for a play on the topic of postmodernism. Through this dialogue with artists from the past, Iztueta experiments with making art about culture. Though it remains vague where or when these scenes are happening, the viewer recognizes that they are happening now. The intrusion of LED screens and the suggestion of the transmission of information in the form of technology throughout also suggests the jarring intrusion of the outside world into these sheltered spaces.