“Abel Monagas Alfonso: Proyecto: ID/Project: ID,” Gallery Bogart

“The Silence of the Flowers That Lambs Eat,” oil on Canvas 53×53 in, Abel Mongas Alfonso (photograph by Day Casas)

Co-curated by gallery owner Miller Bogart and curator and collector JW Vargas, Gallery Bogart’s latest exhibition “Proyecto: ID” features oil paintings by Abel Monagas Alfonso and continues the gallery’s focus on Latin American art. A year and a half ago, Bogart and Vargas visited Havana, Cuba, to view art, where they met Alfonso and developed a professional relationship with him that led to this exhibition. A self-taught artist, Alfonso paints portraits of his grandmother and others in a hyperrealist style. Each portrait engages viewers through portrayals that are often playful and thought-provoking.  

Alfonso’s detailed work is striking for both his technical skill with a brush and his ability to prompt introspection about themes of violence, politics, and the human condition. “The Silence of the Flowers That Lambs Eat” presents a young woman with wispy tufts of grass positioned in her mouth. Her direct stare conveys an ambiguous nonverbal message. Meanwhile, her foliage-filled orifice spurs wonder about whether the grass is emerging from or invading her body. More clusters of grass and organic material cover her naked torso, suggesting a dreamlike identity aligned with a state of being — unexplained symbiosis, violation, organic transformation, or immersive communion with nature? 

“Posthumous Portrait of a Conqueror” depicts a spear thrust through an unoccupied astronaut’s suit and helmet with shattered faceplate. Simple technology renders advanced protective gear useless for its intended function. Violence by a conqueror is suggested, but the scene remains a mystery, allowing interpretation of the attack’s premise and aftermath. A warning for mankind to not boldly go, explore, and colonize where unwelcome? 

“White on White,” oil on Canvas 50×38 in, Abel Mongas Alfonso (photograph by Day Casas)

Wide-eyed and intense, a male with dark skin contrasts with the white substance covering his face, ears, and curly beard. The Spanish meaning of “Blanco Sobre Blanco” may be lost on an English-speaking audience, but “White on White” confronts viewers with a loaded word. Depending on the beholder’s identity, “white” may invoke strict meaning and interpretation, especially when the color reference is applied to an object, material, or person. Alfonso’s painting challenges viewers to consider the literal description of white on white that seemingly contrasts with the image they’re processing in unspoken terms of identity and race. What is it to be white, or not, and does that distinction matter? 

“Potilla” and “S/T” are portraits of a wrinkled old woman with a forward-facing gaze. The subject in the latter work wears eyeglasses and a Batman-like cowl and mask as if in disguise to obscure identity, to be noticed but not fully seen or recognized. In the youth-obsessed U.S., is this a commentary on the identity of the elderly? They are often overlooked in plain view, as though gray hair and wrinkles somehow diminish identity and recognition.

Alfonso’s portraits invite us to re-evaluate how we identify ourselves and others in a surreal and all-too-real way of living. 

“Abel Monagas Alfonso: Proyecto: ID, Project: ID” continues at Gallery Bogart, 1400 Union Ave., through March 30. Public viewing hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment the rest of the week. Schedule a weekday visit by contacting info@gallerybogart.com or 816.739.8571. For more information, visit gallerybogart.com. 

Pete Dulin

Pete Dulin is the author of “Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri,” “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” and two other books. His reporting has appeared in “AFAR Magazine,” “Feast,” “Kansas City Magazine,” KCUR, Zócalo Public Square, “The Kansas City Star,” “The Boston Globe,” and other publications.

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