Edgar Sanchez Cumbas at SCAD MOA

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The expressive art practice of Edgar Sanchez Cumbas (B.F.A., illustration, 1994) includes painting, drawing, and found object sculpture. Many of his paintings incorporate multiple layers of thick impasto, which accumulate into allusions to skin and human bodies. The artist uses abstraction and raw material in tandem with his deeper commentary on subjects like colorism, identity, and pervasive racism. The exhibition NO. This Is Not the Color of Flesh at the SCAD Museum of Art includes recent paintings and drawings that demonstrate the artist’s varied approach to media.

“When you see the work in the flesh, you can’t help but be able to investigate the richness of the pieces,” says Sanchez Cumbas. “Even though some are three-dimensional, some are a flat surface, and some are paper drawings, they all have this rich, tactile quality. There’s a unity to all of the work.”

Sanchez Cumbas injects his abstract compositions with explorations of important contemporary cultural issues. His heavily tactile and layered paintings spring from complex identity politics and are informed by his Puerto Rican heritage.

Sanchez Cumbas: “When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, my grandmother had a popular portrait of Jesus, ‘Head of Christ’ painted by Warner Sallman. This one was a 3D hologram, and as a little kid I fascinated by it. I kept looking at the side and wanting to see what was behind. It was a visual thing, but at the same time there was a sense of suffering that I saw in that picture, and hope too.

“NO. This Is Not the Color of Flesh,” wood, heavy gesso, acrylic polymer paint, and unsanded mortar, 12" x 11" x 8", 2018

“In 2015, I took a trip down the Danube in Austria and saw the cathedrals. Once I came back from that trip, I knew my work would tie into the intersection between religion and racism. At that moment that picture by Sallman popped up again. I was aggressively pushing the paint to mimic the feel of that print of ‘Head of Christ’. It wasn’t until I laid down the last color, the flesh tone, that the first thing I said in my head was, ‘No, this is not the color of flesh!’ At that moment I knew the piece was done.

“That piece is a reinterpretation of a holographic picture, to a sculptural piece. We still have to look to the side and see the details of the violently laid-down paint, the strong, aggressive marks. Then we get to the top surface which is flat and smooth, indicative of our skin and our sensitivity to these issues.”

The title of the exhibition takes its name from the central painting on view. The work, while small in scale, juts out into space with its chunky, accumulated layers of paint in myriad colors, from muted green and subtle brown to deep maroon and saturated yellow. This work, like many of the artist’s paintings, rejects the inherent “flatness” of the traditional picture plane, offering viewers an objecthood and corporeality more akin to their own bodies than to painting and image-making.

The top layer of this work is a swath of beige-pink, a color commonly associated with Caucasian skin. Beiges have historically been the unchecked default “flesh tone” of everything from Crayola crayons to makeup foundation to academic painting instruction. In No. This Is Not the Color of Flesh, Sanchez Cumbas confronts the concept of beige as the assumed human coloring. By finishing the top layer of the work in this color while roughly exposing the multihued underlayers on the sides of the work, the artist suggests the violence and suppression of culture that occurs when societies place a higher value on those with lighter skin.

The award-winning SCAD Museum of Art will reopen to the public Thursday, September 10 with a roster of new and extended international exhibitions.

NO. This Is Not the Color of Flesh is curated by Ben Tollefson, associate curator of SCAD exhibitions.

www.edgarsanchezcumbas.com

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