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Mind over matter 

Pintado exposes a landscape in flux

Flirting with ideas of disappearance, memory, immigration, development and history, 27-year-old Mexican artist Alejandro Pintado's multimedia show of paintings, photographs, sculpture and video are psychological landscapes seen through the mind's eye. Visual palimpsests in which images are superimposed over other images, paradisiacal green countryside can be glimpsed beneath the frantic city scenes suggesting the ghosts of a landscape's former life bleeding through to the present. The painting "Present-Past" rendered in oil, wax and charcoal is a representative blurring of time and space. A city scene of cars and pedestrians is executed in white like a negative photographic image in which only partial details show through. Superimposed on this haunted cityscape is a highway vanishing into the distance buffered by a verdant landscape. In yet another layer, of brown, featureless mountains can also be discerned.

Pintado's work suggests the landscape of the imagination and the common experience of occupying two places at once. Every landscape has its own past; every city underlain with forest, every highway cutting through a wilderness. The notion of memory and the contemporary layered over the ancient can also be seen in one of the most arresting, strange tropes in Pintado's work: vivid red rectangular, egg and pill shapes that hover in several of the paintings' fore- and backgrounds. These mysterious, abstract crimson blots are like the firing synapses of the imagination, or the presence of some inexplicable, invisible force underlying the world's day-to-day operations; or another layer of memory inaccessible to conscious thought.

While Pintado's work can suggest the more lyrical operations of memory, more often there is a bitter undertone to his imagery implying themes of development, industrialization, alienation from the landscape and overpopulation. In "Vista," an octagonal landscape of distant hills is overlaid with totems of industrialization: factories, bunkers, prisons.

In Pintado's hectic noisy image bank, cars, highways, traffic and the hurried movements of pedestrians dominate his architecture of ordinary estrangement. When people do appear, they are rendered as abstract white "shadows," bodies cropped at the face or too far away to really see. In a two-minute video loop, "Observing," Pintado offers a Conversation-style surveillance scene of a bustling city intersection observed from an overhead distance. People and cars criss-cross; there's a flurry of movement and activity as the traffic and human arteries buzz with life. Little by little Pintado "erases" these figures, beginning with the cars, which begin to appear as white cut-outs moving through the city. Soon people suffer the same "white out," their features disappearing as they are essentially cut out of the landscape. Man and machine are synonymous in the work; blank, featureless, anonymous occupants of a place that fluctuates uneasily between past and present.

Pintado's work implies the sensation of mortality and estrangement that is often most powerfully felt in cities; the sense of being just one of millions and the possibility of getting lost or disappearing in a mass of strangers.

But considering Pintado's origin as a Mexican artist, the work also seems to carry some culturally specific baggage, suggesting, with its recurring scenes of highways and rivers and automobiles, the exodus of his countrymen and women and a country defined by terminal flux.

The myriad pieces of Pintado's show do not always flow into a cohesive whole. There is an obscurity to the work that often undercuts its visual punch. But Pintado's inferences tend to be more tantalizing than many other artists' pat conclusions and leave a feeling of discomfort and dis-ease in their wake.

Recent Work by Alejandro Pintado runs through Oct. 21 at Vaknin Schwartz, 1831 Peachtree Road. Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 404-351-0035.

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