(more Axis: Bold as Love)

We don’t mean to imply there is no longer a place for idealists or that no new bushy-tails are coming down the pike. The situation here is hardly all calculated scheming, wiseacre posturing, and marketable hooey, although CIRCA proved there is certainly plenty of that in Puerto Rico’s near future. But for the moment, it appears that the wave of local self-starters—a smart, well-trained cadre of artists, curators, dealers, and other interested parties with a more or less global outlook and a disposition for doing good in the world—hasn’t depleted itself quite yet. Last week the Santurce artists’ collaborative =Desto opened a show of four relatively unknown photographers, organized by =Desto’s Jason Mena. And at Guillermo Rodríguez’s gallery in Hato Rey, La Casa del Arte, San Juan artist Gamaliel Rodríguez-Alaya curated his own show of fellow provocateurs, “Emergents: Affordable Art,” which is really less about money and more about scale and disturbance.

There are also those artists lurking in the shrubbery, half-forgotten, never well known, not much interested in building a career or nursing a reputation. What a friend of ours calls los desconocidos. We haven’t been around long enough to know who, exactly, these might be or if an artist not on the Rotund radar is un desconocido or the Rotund crew unos pinches ignorantes.

But we’ll hazard a guess that Javier Martínez is desconocido, or close to it, since we visited his knockout exhibition at La Liga de Arte en Viejo San Juan, “Re-Cuento,” and none of those we asked had been to see it.

Martínez is an aficionado of trifling objects, mundane scenes, bodily fluids. One entire canvas is devoted to a gathering of framed snapshots or sketches of the sort you might see in disarray on a bedroom dressing table, sitting in a pool of blood. He sometimes works like a miniaturist, creating detailed tableaux of, say, a shower stall drain or a section of wall with a clock, a still life painting, and a vivid red stain bleeding on to the patterned carpet. His style is on the primitive side, especially when it comes to figures, but his intent, always queasy, is unmistakable. Insinuations of meat, money, and body parts appear in unexpected places. He writes excellent little stories of laughable human folly and includes these as texts accompanying his paintings, or simply printed on the wall like broadsides.

“Re-Cuento” begins with a collage titled “Preciado Líquido,” a gathering of apparently haphazard notes, plans, and calculations. There is a quick sketch of clouds. A sewer pipe with a tracing-paper overlay. Notations like “600%,” as if this work is merely a preliminary markup. Statistics with symbols, charting moods or greetings or who knows what, from “Very, very good,” through “Fabulous,” and “Halfway happy” to “Almost happy.” A tiny text, part of which is attached to the collage with a paper clip, tells of a human head found in a sewer which caused the sewer to rupture, leaving the city without water. Much like San Juan.

Another of his tableaux shows a gathering of hospital gurneys in the shadow of a distant city, empty of anything save for bloody sheets. There is also a scene of abject, thorough abandonment: a broken television, a bloody yellow vestment, discarded binoculars, a log, some scribbled notes, and encroaching flames; all in a murky gray void.

Perhaps the highlight of the show is a series of small acrylic-on-paper paintings, with the aforementioned wall and shower drain, plus a scene of an optometrist’s chart from a very bad dream and a lawn littered with fleshy bits. Talk about “frail, afflicted humanity,” Martínez’s vision may be on the nasty side, but its balefulness is redeemed by the artist’s funny, sideways glance and the off-handed look of his painting style, which, we’ll bet, he painstakingly acquired.

Martínez’s written works have their own simple yet well-honed grotesquery, and they’re well worth your time. There is some tourist-baiting , a poke in the academic eye, and more.

Pictured from the top down: “Preciado Líquido,” mixed media on paper, 12" x 9", 2004. Next: “Espera," acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30", 2006. Next: two from the series “Pequeños crímenes de memoria,” each 8 1/4" x 8 1/4", 2005. The exhibition, alas, has closed, but you can contact Liga Estudiantes de Arte de San Juan at 787-722-4468.

We’ll get back to our other exhibitions in time, but we don’t want to wear our Rotund readership to a frazzle just yet. “f/4” at =Desto and Rodríguez-Alaya’s “Emergents: Affordable Art” remain in sight of the Rotund looking glass, and also the inimitable, often rather irritable Pedro Vélez, who is treading his own foul territory, in the usual ways though with surprising differences that Rotund World feels bound to puzzle over.

As we Rotunders have been of little use to the art world lately and it’s been a rich, even extravagant season, we hope to make it up to our disgusted public with details of an announcement that promises big bucks and certain celebrity; to wit:

1° Bienal de las Américas Rafael Cauduro, Tijuana 2006

El XVIII Ayuntamiento de Tijuana a través del Instituto Municipal de Arte y Cultura y el Maestro Rafael Cauduro, convocan a los artistas plásticos de toda América a participar en la 1° Bienal de las Americas Rafael Cauduro, Tijuana 2006.

El primer lugar será de: $50,000 USD.; el segundo lugar: $30,000 USD.; el tercer lugar: 20,000 USD, así como, 10 Diplomas. Este magno evento se llevará a cabo con el propósito de enaltecer y reivindicar al dibujo como la base, el soporte y la fuente misma de la creación artística. STAY TUNED!