What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

July 29, 2021

Camilo Restrepo
The Other Names
Steve Turner
July 1 – July 31, 2021

Camilo Restrepo

The Other Names is an exhibition by the Columbia based artist Camilo Restrepo consisting of more than five hundred 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inch drawings on paper presented in large grids, four rows high by the width of each gallery wall. These are comical, ironic, cutting and witty portraits of Columbian criminals— narcos, paramilitary, hitmen, blackmailers, gang members and corrupt politicians— that were mentioned in the newspaper, El Tiempo in 2020, under an assumed name or alias. To create this collection, Restrepo researched each alias while also keeping a calendar (that appears on the back of each drawing) that marked the days the alias appeared in the paper. This transforms the set of drawings into a record of criminal activity in Columbia during the year.

The drawings are created on mangled sheets of paper. Restrepo folds, crumbles, scratches and distresses the pages before drawing on them giving them an aged and decrepit aura. They are ironic caricatures, often based on a combination of Google searches, common knowledge and pop culture myths. For example, Pedro Orejas (all works 2021) is an image of a 'Fred Flintstone' look alike with blood dripping from one ear and an explosion emanating from the other. The cartoon figure has a ball and chain around one foot. The fingers on one hand are inserted into a large green emerald. Googling Pedro Orejas reveals this headline: A U.S. court determined this Monday that the emerald Pedro Nel Rincón Castillo, better known as "Pedro Orejas" will pay a sentence of 19 and a half years for drug trafficking. It is not the only crime for which justice found him guilty. While Restrepo does not linger on actual crimes, the portraits often contain weapons or activities that allude to the offenses committed.

In Quirico, the subject is depicted with chicken feet sawing himself in half with a giant handsaw, whereas in Gonzalito, Restrepo presents his subject posed as a muscular action figure or lucha libre dressed in a deep yellow costume with light yellow wings. He has the head of a huge yellow bird. Jota refers to a fast paced folk dance and in this drawing, the smiling, helmeted, farcical figure's body has been pierced by torches, despite being clad in armour. In Chiqui, a round yellow chicken with bulging eyes has been shot by a cannon. Red blood streams from it's wound creating a puddle at the bottom of the drawing.

While some of the references and associations are specific to Spanish speakers, especially those knowledgeable about Columbia's turbulent underworld, the drawings do have universal appeal. Restrepo often references American popular culture and uses well known cartoon icons like Fred Flintstone, Bugs Bunny or Popeye, as well as characters from the Simpsons TV show and the Minions films (as in Kevin which is a drawing of a gritted-tooth figure dripping blood in blue coveralls who appears to be ripping his own heart out.)

At first glance, the installation of over 500 numbered drawings is daunting and overwhelming. But even contemplating just a few begins to shed light on the breadth and significance of Restrepo's project. While in 2020-2021, much of the world was ravaged by Covid-19, it appears that criminal activities remained a hot topic in Columbia. Restrepo tries to make sense of it all by making drawings that call attention to the absurdity of these glamorized lives of crime.