A Hungry Man Is An Angry Man, an English proverb from the 17th century, is also the title of Gustavo Artigas’ solo exhibition at YYZ. Humans have been saying this proverb for 4 centuries and counting… If we deprive someone of their basic necessities, rage will rise up and will not be easily placated.
Having endured gastric complications and medical procedures for more than ten years, I can certainly relate to this proverb. My stomach being compromised, makes it impossible for me to bear more than two hours without any food, I will start destabilizing, being irritable, having unbearable cramps, feel numb, start shaking and, if I don’t act fast and properly, I’ll probably faint…
Hunger has all these effects on me. I consider myself very lucky to have a choice, since over 800 million people all over the world suffer from food deprivation on a daily basis. There’s no doubt that a hungry human is an angry human.
Artigas’ show is a reflex of the anthropocene era, where humanity keeps demonstrating that social, political and economic inequalities are far away from vanishing. Gustavo Artigas has been widely exploring tensions in his work created by these inequalities, different factors, contexts and interactions in the social, political, economic and cultural environments. In this new series of work, he makes reference to economic problems, or economic reflexes, as he announces them, which Toronto is not exempted from as a cosmopolitan diverse city. As a result of a residency in Toronto since 2018, the artist witnesses different aspects of Torontonian life, hunger, homelessness, employment precarity. Thriving as an artist, as an immigrant artist, becomes a tough challenge, an economic reflex.
When you enter Artigas’ show you see a series of abstract drawings made on simple Letter white bond sheets, hanging from the walls, delicately sustained by pins. If you look closer to the drawings you’ll notice something more, the paper seems to have reliefs, it has been folded, manipulated. There are traces on it, sometimes subtle almost invisible, as when a liquid imprints its passage through a surface; and sometimes obvious, visible, preponderant scattered spots and stains. We also recognize a brownish, reddish liquid pigment, blood perhaps penetrating the immaculate white of the paper. Every abstract drawing is different from each other yet, there is an organic pattern, this oval form that comes and goes and moves along the sheet, appears and disappears, it’s a dental form, a bite… we glimpse the teeth marks poking the paper.
In the middle of the gallery lies a pile of photocopies you can interact with, you can take one with you. And what you’re taking is a photocopied sign of a homeless man, Artigas’ friend, who experienced an economic reflex, in this ruthless city. Far away from victimization, the reality permeating this show lies in these socioeconomic disparities. For example, urban development is one of the healthiest and strongest economies in Toronto and yet, over 10,000 Torontonians are homeless every night. Hunger hits 1 in 5 households in Toronto. Simplistically extrapolating this situation to the art world, in 2019-2020, Toronto Arts Council gave around $1 million dollars in grants to individual visual and media artists. The governmental system is generous, but has its limitations. If you’re not among the 106 granted artists, in order to make a living through showing your work, aligned to CARFAC fees and government support, you need at least 3 solo shows per month to make a “reasonable” living, which becomes inconceivable.
Making a living out of art is extremely difficult yet, Artigas responds to it in a povera and stoic way, creating abstract landscapes out of body fluids, paper, teeth and the sense of hunger. He also squeezes out all elements the institution has to offer, literally, detritus, dust and dirt accumulated in YYZ galleries, becoming the matter for his window display mural.
In a performative act of biting, this series is made with hunger, rage and humor, with desperation and mischief, with blood, saliva and laughter. Because even if Artigas’ aesthetics seems to go in a different direction than his earlier work, he manages to wrap us in his heartbreakingly playful atmosphere. This series pays homage to Arte povera. This artistic movement was not about making art in a poor, lacking of money environment, but rather using everyday life materials in response to art made by traditional practices and materials. Artigas migration experience in Canada, in the midst of the economic transformations of this mega city, brings him to create with whichever material he has available, and whichever resource he has in handy.
A Hungry Man is an Angry man born from Artigas’ experience with immigration, relocation, adaptation, confrontation to different systems of economics, politics, social insurance, art… And then the pandemic. It all comes to survival and depriving people from their basic necessities, and this has always been a subject that interests Artigas. In the midst of a complex and layered personal and professional experience, this show relies on Artigas’ strength and desire to continue believing in art, to hold on to what he can to continue creating. Because that is his life, because without that, he simply does not exist. His rage will rise up and not be easily placated.
 Arte povera was a radical Italian art movement from the late 1960s to 1970s whose artists explored a range of unconventional processes and non-traditional ‘everyday’ materials. https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/arte-povera