Gilbert and Sullivan may have written that “a policeman’s lot is not a happy one” in “The Pirates of Penzance”, but neither is the progressive political artist’s. Denounced by the political right for socialist proclivities (no Canada!) and by the cultural left for abandoning the lofty plane of pure sensation to produce agitprop for the groundlings, such artists generally get no respect.
A couple of paintings from 2002 are representative of Chagoya’s art of juxtaposed signifiers. “Untitled” depicts a scene set within an engraving appropriated from a Renaissance treatise on perspective. A long room is covered with a grid of tiles whose vanishing point is located within a central figure, as with Leonardo’s “Last Supper”. In this case, the focus is Petunia Pig, six-breasted and grown up, in a blue bikini. Arrayed around her head, receding into space like monumental movie credits, in large capital letters, are various examples of mangled beginner’s English: “English as she is spoke”, “I am catched cold in the brain”, and “It must never to laugh of the unhappies”.
Chagoya’s codices carry the imagery of the paintings into a sprawling, horizontal panoramic format. Endowed with loquacious, sprawling surrealist titles (e.g., “The Axis of Goodness vs. the Eroticized Aerials of the Psyche”), these accordion-shaped works on paper are catalogues of visual/verbal absurdities: butterflies labeled Pessimists; skull-headed tots labeled Hedge Fund Managers; Egyptian/Assyrian soldiers, riding a war camel labeled Critical Theorists and Philosophers opine on ”free-wheeling non-linear thought”; and a Lone Ranger, labeled Museum Directors, muses on “superficiality and facades.”