Ernesto Ybarra’s pallette is made up of several different shades. Some give color to his Mexican heritage. Others paint his American lifestyle. He dipped his paintbrush in all of them to create “In Between Worlds,” a fine arts exhibition on display at 2312 Gallery through Jan. 15.
At school and around his friends, the painter felt like a regular American kid growing up in Minnesota. But at home, he was met with the strong presence of his Mexican heritage, reinforced by the warmth of a big family, his abuelita’s hand-made tortillas and a strict Catholic upbringing.
Ybarra lived comfortably and moved at ease in between these two drastically different worlds, an experience he said molded him and served as inspiration for his most recent showing.
“Those two influences everyday were infused in me as I was growing up, and I can’t separate them for some reason. I can’t go totally traditional and I can’t go totally American. I try to blend it all in,” he said. “I would call it something like my Mesoamerican expressionism and abstract expressionism.”
Another source of Ybarra’s inspiration is Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work moved Ybarra away from his original pursuit of photography in college and motivated him to begin painting.
“Through his art, I was extremely inspired; I felt the world shift, and it started me on this path,” said the 41-year-old.
Ybarra’s recent work, which has been on display since Dec. 4, attests a mixture of modern art and folkloric Mexican culture. His admiration of the Virgin Mary and the work of Basquiat are evident in paintings such as “Cinco de Lupe” and “Blessed Are You,” in which he used the vivid hues and themes of folkloric Mexican art with the graffiti-like twist of Basquiat’s style.
The Virgin Mary is a recurring theme in the painter’s repertoire.
“Our Lady is always around me. She is always giving me influences,” Ybarra said. “She is always speaking to me in some way shape or form, which is why I do so many variations of her.”
“After so many years of seeing the traditional Our Lady hanging on the wall of your abuelita’s [grandma’s] house, you start to not see it,” Ybarra said. “You know it’s there but it starts to blend in.”
The pieces he paints of the Virgin are a tribute to her. He said that young people are claiming the images he produces of the Virgin.
“They talk about her, which is all I care about,” he said. “They know she’s not dead, that she’s part of our culture along with all the other Mesoamerican iconography.”
Latino culture is a complex source of inspiration for Ybarra. He refuses to draw limiting labels on this part of his identity. The artist is intent on blending every aspect and every shade that colors Latino culture into his art.
“When we say we’re a light skin Latino or a dark skin Latino or a blond Latino, we’re putting borders in between ourselves,” he said. “When truly our culture has every color. From the darkest skin to the lightest skin. From the darkest eye to the lightest eye. That is our culture, and it is beautiful.”
The 2312 Gallery is at 2312 Second Ave. in Belltown. “In Between Worlds” will run until Jan. 15, culminating with a party the same day to celebrate Ernesto Ybarra’s birthday. The show is free and everyone is welcome to attend.