- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000


Colombian-born artist and D.C. resident Felix Angel exhibits his art worldwide but only occasionally in Washington. He believes his career as an artist could conflict with his position as director of the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center.
Fortunately, Mr. Angel (pronounced an-hel) is now showing his new linocuts — prints made by gouging images into linoleum. The exhibit "Felix Angel — The Millennium Prints" — at Gallery 42 of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a rare institutional occasion to view his work in Washington. His powerful black-and-white images of cyclists, horses with jockeys, boys' heads and himself shouldn't be missed.
Consider his series on bicyclists. The rider in "Cyclist No. 4" seems to explode from the picture in a maelstrom of blacks and whites. Enormous hands direct the hurtling bike at us. Gigantic curved shoulders and arms bear down on the inverted "S" of the handlebars.
Mr. Angel, 51, twists the cyclist's head — set on a huge neck — in the opposite direction of the bike, adding a contrapuntal tension to the picture.
There's even more dislocation in "Cyclist #3." Here the biker's body seems to fall freely through space, stopped and supported only by the prominent handlebars. His legs stretch in an upside-down right angle behind him.
The artist aims to create speed with the body and bicycle becoming one. He says, "The bicycle and rider turn into a strange being, part human and part machine. This in itself may seem unusual but is one of the overriding concerns of modern art."
Mr. Angel equates man's physical strength with inner power. He says that man has been a recurrent theme in the history of art and is the center of his work. He uses sports themes to express what he considers men's superhuman aspirations.
He explores another kind of relationship in the "Horse and Rider" series that he has been working on since the 1970s. The artist shows the bikers' control of their bicycles but here illustrates the idea that the horses can't be controlled.
Exhibit curator Manon Cleary effectively juxtaposes four "Horses and Riders" on one gallery wall. All show the changing associations between the men and their steeds. Like the cyclists series, the jockey's bodies and their horses become as one.
The jockey leans toward his steed in "The Secret" (1999). The animal and its eyes dominate the composition in "Way Back." The rider seems to fall off his horse in "Bad Morning." The jockey collapses into the neck of the horse while it turns to stare at the viewer in "The Secret" (2000).
Mr. Angel's imagery also is effective in depicting single persons. "Self-Portrait in Flames" (1999) is one. It's a confrontational portrait head in the spirit of pop artist Chuck Close. Yet it's very different.
The artist shows himself from below, at a slight angle — but an unusual one for a self-image. He emphasizes the wrinkles on the neck, the stubble of beard on his chin and the thin lips, large eyes and enormous black eyebrows.
The directness of his gaze compel us to enter his thoughts. Is he happy or sad? The slashed curved lines of the jaw reveal a certain tension. The flames around his head leap upwards.
"I was overcoming a difficult emotional period at the time," he explains. "I did the self-portrait as a catharsis and showed myself as a person reborn. The flames symbolize a cleansing and purification."
Two other effective single images are "I Do Not See a Thing" and "I Do Not Hear a Thing." Enlarged hands are important in all of Mr. Angel's work but are especially potent in "Do Not See."
He angles a huge hand over the eyes to completely hide them. The head is a generalized oval with just a slight indication of lips. The artist shows the contorted face of a man whose huge left hand plugs that ear while a cork stops the other in "Do Not Hear."
The prints refer directly to his home country of Colombia and the situation there. He says people refuse to accept reality and ignore the prevailing injustices.
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Mr. Angel turned to working with linoleum prints in 1998. He wanted to renew and enhance his imagery and liked the limitations the medium imposed on him. He also admired its boldness and graphic strength.
The artist says he first thinks a long time about the image, then executes it quickly. He finds that part of the energy comes from gouging into the linoleum.
Mr. Angel prints the linocuts by hand himself, a strenuous process. He makes just a few prints — only up to 10 — of an image.
The artist has been successful as a painter, architect, designer, muralist, author, curator and critic, though he's presently concentrating on prints.
He first came to Washington when he showed in a group exhibit at the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1974. He had just graduated from the School of Architecture of the National University of Colombia at the Medellin Campus.
Encouraged by sales of his work at OAS, Mr. Angel decided to expand his trip with visits to New York City and Philadelphia. He liked what he saw as the vitality of the art world. He returned to the United States three times before settling in Washington in 1977.
The artist began a 12-year stint from 1977 to 1989 as assistant to the director, exhibit designer and curator at the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America of OAS. He joined the Cultural Center of the Inter-American Development Bank in 1992 as curator and then as director.
Mr. Angel began showing extensively outside of Washington while at the OAS. In the past 30 years, he has participated in more than 80 one-person exhibitions in Colombia, the United States, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
He also showed in more than 250 group exhibits, art competitions and art fairs in the Western Hemisphere and Europe. His work is in 16 major art institutions in the United States and in Central and South America.
The artist recently served on the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities and worked on several grant-reviewing panels for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is editor of the 19th- and 20th-century art section of the Handbook of Latin American Studies of the Spanish and Portuguese Division of the Library of Congress.
As demonstrated in this exhibition, Mr. Angel has found his artistic path with linocuts. He has always shown his graphic expressiveness in his long career as a painter. He likes the immediacy and energy of the pencil line and it has been the underpinnings of all of his art, especially the prints.
The artist is presently working on a ceramic mural for a metro station in Medellin. It's a 20-by-18-foot blowup of "The Champion," one of the cyclists series. Mr. Angel appears to be taking the graphic power of his prints into other media, and this should bode well for his work in the new millennium.
WHAT: "Felix Angel — The Millennium Prints"WHERE: Gallery 42, Building 42, Rear A Level, University of the District of Columbia, 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW WHEN: 12:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and by appointment, through Nov. 22TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/274-5781 or 202/274-7402

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