Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
THE QUINTESSENTIAL BORDER TOWN, TIJUANA IS NORMALLY thought of as a point of cultural transition, more American than anyplace else in Mexico and, of course, more Mexican than anyplace in America. But in Hugo Crosthwaite's "Tijuanerias," a suite of 100 drawings on paper plus a four-wall, room-filling mural, it takes on a grotesque hyper-Mexicanness—or at least a roiling, threatening Otherness. Himself a Tijuanista but educated in San Diego and now living in Brooklyn, Crosthwaite is clearly sending up the Yanqui viewpoint, exaggerating in his part-cartoon, part-fotonovella manner his hometown's image as a fetid site of sex, violence, poverty, perversion and clownish behavior, a place of dense activity but simple motives. It's as if Crosthwaite ran both long-standing stereotypes and recent headlines through a hallucinatory magic-realism animation machine, in order to put a scare into the gabachos and thereby reclaim Tijuana for its inhabitants.
Crosthwaite clearly loves conflating naturalistic detail and broad caricature. He claims quite credibly to pay homage with the "Tijuanerias" series to Goya's Los Caprichos (1797—99) —in spirit, in style, in intent. His, like Goya's, is a narrative impulse and to some extent a moralistic one, but also one that revels in the macabre for its own sake. Certain characters seem to recur, but what really recurs are stock themes—Lucho Libre wrestlers, pubescent girls, gangsters, street scenes, signs and posters, and weird spirits described in cartoonish outline haunting the "real" characters—guardian angels? Avenging demons? Crosthwaite's own commentary? At the very least, these figments bridge another border, between the real and the implied, the concrete and the imaginary, the seen and the felt. Crosthwaite's is a Tijuana of the Mind—and not just his.
The "Tijuanerias" series is also available as a compact booklet, its pages approximately the same size as the drawings. The drawings themselves are displayed in an even line around the four walls of the front room. Crosthwaite clearly descends from Goya via Posada, collage, the comic book, and the penny-dreadful (or at least its latter-day Latin versions), and, while he hasn't composed the "Tijuanerias" in any sort of apparent narrative arc, the series' common, page-oriented format and recurring motifs and figures make it work splendidly as a book. Thus, while the drawings have a richness of tone and texture entirely lost in the booklet's newsprint, their immediacy and palpability is also compromised (if not as badly) when hung from a nail. By this token, any one actual drawing is in fact stronger than the series as a whole—something you could argue is also true of Los Caprichos.
Happily, the staid, insistent rhythm of the front-room drawing installation set us up to be ambushed by the back room's feverish, episodic parade of hapless monsters, twisted street scenes, child's dreams, and moments of intimacy and tenderness between likely and unlikely people and unpeople. If casual incongruity powers the "Tijuaneria" drawings, an even more hilarious sense of dissonant but delightful juxtaposition wafted through the back-room mural, a "Welcome To The Funhouse" visual unpacking—or, perhaps, re-packing—almost operatic in its breadth and depth.
- Peter Frank