Beauty and ruin

Agustín Patiño’s astonishing "Metropolis" at Studio Z
By GREG COOK  |  July 30, 2014

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"SUPER-SYMBOLIC" 'Enigma del Rio.'

You’ve surely seen Providence painter Agustín Patiño’s work. He did the 140-foot-long mural on Ontario Street just off Broad Street of a web of suspension bridges miraculously spanning great seas. And the mural on the side of the Dialysis Center of Providence on Broad Street depicting a giant glass bowl with a waterfall thundering inside and fish and people swimming in the clear water. And the mural along the Meeting Street side of the Wheeler School that he finished last fall of giant ships carrying communities under domes.

“Metropolis,” his new show at Studio Z (25 Eagle St, Providence, through August 9), is one of the best you’ll see around these parts this year. It offers more of his signature blend of Latin American magic realism and sci-fi. Maybe call it “magic futurism.”

You feel like you could fall into his cinematic panoramas of vast city squares or green rivers meandering through mountainous jungles littered with dead cars. The paintings are hyperreal, full of lavish details sparkling with life. The effect is so ravishing that it’s easy to become distracted from what is often a lament about the damage people have done to the planet.

Patiño was born in Girón, a town near Cuenca, Ecuador. He says he’s been dreaming up metropolises all the way back to when he played on beaches as a boy, “making with sand and water and stones, like a game. Now it’s painting.” He studied architecture at Cuenca State University in Ecuador, then painting at the Universidad Central del Ecuador in Quito. He has spent time across Latin America and in European cities, packing his rolled up canvases along with him.

The earliest paintings here date from 1992, his college years. They depict men digging up a street and crowds milling about a shantytown. The spaces feel vast and lonely, recalling the curious desert plains that Surrealist Salvador Dali often painted. At this point, Patiño was still learning how to depict people and feeling his way toward his own vision.

A decade later, he astonishes. Inspired by four and half years his family spent in the Amazon region of Ecuador, Enigma del Rio (2005) depicts a sleepy river paradise dotted with waterfalls, parrots, and kingfishers. His three children swing from ropes and splash in the waters. The sensual, dreamlike mood is emphasized by his rendering of his first wife with angel wings and her skirt and top riding up as she lies sleeping atop a junked sedan. But this is a fallen paradise, despoiled by junked cars. Rusty, dead buses are repurposed as makeshift homes; a dog sits on an old couch parked on the riverbank.

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