You want to be careful when you meet collage artist Carlos Ulloa at his new show Calamitous Conundrums at Bermudez Projects in downtown Los Angeles. He's trying to read your mind, despite your best efforts.
"It is much safer," Ulloa says, "to not portray what we are feeling. We do this to coexist, to be loved, to sell something. We fit in to survive." That doesn't work on an artist whose work is a reaction to the outside world. "When I meet people I want to know more. I try to read their minds and see their world. I inevitably imagine their struggles, dreams, and sins."
These imaginings are translated into the found images Ulloa stitches together into the intricate portraits in Calamitous Conundrums, a dozen framed mixed-media collages and a series of limited-edition prints on wood veneer.
Through Ulloa's prism, sea urchin eggs become one subject's nose, below the steel-grey eyes of a housecat, rimmed in red fur bracelets … and is that a seed-pod above the eyes, or a trio of snails? A man with watermelon brains is crowned with a wild boar whose body has morphed into a giant blue eye … is he a racist with stereotypes on the brain?
Born in Philadelphia 45 years ago, Ulloa calls himself a sculptor, and it's true his collages are so finely wrought as to be very flat sculptures. He earned is MFA from Vermont College/Union University and has worked at foundries in Ecuador and Germany. Ulloa has shown his work at a United Nations-worth of galleries, from Cologne and Leverkusen, Germany; to Panama City, Panama; to Madrid, Spain; to Miami, Bethlehem, and Los Angeles, USA. He came to LA when his family took over Yamashiro, the Japanese restaurant that crowns Hollywood.
Just as part of the fun of meeting new people is figuring out their various parts – their ethnic blend, their influences, their different personalities – part of the fun of Ulloa's collage portraits is trying to identify the sources for his collages (Is that a digestive tract? A jellyfish? And which Texas high school yearbook or French royalist history yielded that astounding, gravity-defying hairdo?).
"Portraits are exceptionally fun palettes for outlandish compositions," Ulloa says. "I am a contemplative voyeur. I infer what the poser is really like by making them a muse for unruly imaginations and bizarre metaphors."
Calamitous Conundrums opens Saturday, November 3 and runs through December 29, 2012. The opening reception is Saturday, November 3, from 7-10pm.
Bermudez Projects is at 117 W. 9th Street, Space 810, Los Angeles, California 90015. Available 7 days a week. Visit our website for more information.