“Patrick McGrath Muñiz: Revelaciones,” Greenlease Gallery and Panacea Project Space at Rockhurst University

Patrick McGrath Muñiz, Our Holy Woke Lady of Dreams and Delusions, 2022, oil on triptych panel, 20.5 x 25 inches

In his exhibit “Revelaciones,” Patrick McGrath Muñiz, a Puerto Rican-born artist who now lives in Texas, has hijacked the traditional retablo format, giving his works a twenty-first century update which is provocative, humorous and intriguing. “Retablo,” which translates to “behind the altar,” refers to the paintings which were placed in Catholic churches beginning in the early Middle Ages. Often they are enclosed in an elaborate framework; the subjects depicted could be devotional or tell a story to those who were unable to read. The complex wooden supports for Muñiz’s works are all hand-crafted, carved and gilded by the artist.   

Patrick McGrath Muñiz, Distract & Divide, 2023, oil and metal leaf on panel, 30 x 24 inches

Muñiz moved to the U. S. in his early twenties and has lived here for nearly 25 years. The artist experienced a devastating loss after Hurricane Maria destroyed his studio and all his artwork.  But after sifting through the debris, he was able to salvage a deck of Tarot cards. The cards became not only a source of inspiration for his art but also motivated him to study their symbolism and mysticism. Muñiz explained that “the tarot symbolism, woven into each piece, adds an additional layer of mysticism, suggesting that the answers to some of our most pressing questions may lie in the realm of the esoteric. The tarot cards can be seen as an archetypal pathway to self-discovery and reflection, offering insights into our personal myths, stories and memories as well as our collective destinies.” 

Muñiz’s retablos are densely populated with figures, objects and bits of landscape.  Saint-like figures sport tattoos, a ceremonial chalice is inscribed with the familiar logo of Kool-Aid, and just as in all our lives, cell phones abound. Details such as multiple ear piercings, pandemic facial masks, Mickey Mouse ears and Amazon boxes place the retablo inhabitants firmly into a swirl of contemporary pop culture and rampant consumerism. Meanwhile, ominous clouds, war tanks, oil drilling rigs and blazing fires, which appear in the not-too-distant backgrounds, can’t help but remind one of looming environmental disasters.  

Muñiz is a devotee of art history, the history of the church and the old master painting tradition. Fascinated by both Spanish colonialism and present-day consumerism, he feels he can be the bridge to bring these disparate worlds together. “Revelaciones” alludes to both spiritual insights from the Bible as well as the painter’s own perceptions. 

Patrick McGrath Muñiz, The Call, 2023, oil and gold leaf on triptych panel, 45 x 33 inches

In the altarpiece, “The Call,” the artist has depicted himself at an easel in the central panel, “at the crossroads of artistic tradition and technological disruption.” The title refers to both the innate desire to make art as well as the siren call of the cell phone. Muñiz clarified, “It’s a commentary on art history, and the role of the artist in a rapidly developing technologically driven world, how much that affects our understanding and appreciation of nature, history and ourselves, changing our world, and how we forget to reconnect with the source with the natural world and with our own soul, so this is a call to waking up to what really matters. . .”   

Muñiz has provided gallery-goers with a guide, “Narratives to Paintings,” which details much of the symbolism, inspiration, and explanations behind his paintings. 

“Patrick McGrath Muñiz: Revelaciones” continues at the Greenlease Gallery at Rockhurst University, 5235 Troost Ave., through May 12. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. The gallery will be closed for spring break March 9-17 and Easter weekend, March 29-31. For more information, 816.501.4407 or www.rockhurst.edu/center-arts-letters/greenlease-gallery.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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