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Ariel Vargassal uses his portrait series TOTEMS as a means to explore metaphorical issues affecting modern society such as mental health problems, political inequities and emotional states of cognitive dissonance and unexpected pleasure

Drawing on the rich history of mural art in his homeland, which flourished in a movement known as “Magical Naturalism (Naturalismo Mágico),” in addition to being influenced by indigenous belief systems in the Americas, and elsewhere, he used the spiritual concept of totems in day to day. Vargassal uses a minimalist approach to his work to reveal the complex coexistence between the human world and wildlife. Another key influence in his work comes from the literature of “Magical Realism” (Realismo Mágico) that grew up reading, with novels and stories by Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges.

As a result —and in contrast to the traditional mythical aspects of totemism— the animals of Vargassal paintings live in the same reality as their human subjects, in which it is possible to represent a kind of mutual communion and communication … when approaching animals in this way, there is an anthropomorphic aspect involved in the work. Vargassal explains: “As an artist, I have ignored all the superstitions and symbolisms that are culturally given to totems and I only look at aesthetics. I find what will work visually for the composition and make the subject the center of the painting without background. I aspire to create a narrative that explores the imagination of the observer, works humanize and contextualize modern animal art as my own taking of figurative art.” Animals, then, become a reflection of human beings or the world around human beings, who portray emotional states in a deliberately oblique way. Each painting of Totems shows a momentary experience that represents the coming together of the person and the animal. Many of the paintings are very intimate, though not sexual. The human subject is naked, exposed and vulnerable, but there is also an element of empowerment in the nakedness of the subject, as if naked had been returned to the garden, returning to a natural state in which the fact that we humans are not nothing more than animals.

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