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Ricardo Duffy
Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, Laguna Beach, California
Review by Liz Goldner

Ricardo Duffy, “Not God’s Domain,” 1996, acrylic and oil painting, 65 x 65"


Continuing through January 4, 2024


Ricardo Duffy’s timely exhibition presents lavish, colorful depictions of life’s social and political difficulties, specifically relating to the history behind these issues. The show also features quasi-humorous renderings of Mexicans and Chicanos, fierce jaguars and coyotes representing the artist’s deeper persona, and portraits of historical figures.


The selection of forty dramatic drawings, paintings, and prints covers several decades. It reveals an artist who applies his knowledge of his Indigenous/Mexican heritage and of world affairs to the creation of finely crafted pieces that pack a gut-punch.


“Not God’s Domain” (1996) opens the show. Infused with deep reds, oranges, and blues, it features a growling coyote hanging from a telephone pole that looks like a cross. Nearby, a large ape crouches in a tree, while a fish sprouts a nuclear bomb, emblazoned with symbols of the world’s major religions.


Two monotypes, “El Tigre” (1998) and “Tamal-Type UFO” (1999), feature ferocious jaguars. The tamale-shaped UFO symbolizes our planet’s many different cultures and life beyond Earth. “Chicano Devours Chicanos” (2000) features a skull within the large mouth of a demonic jaguar, expressing Duffy’s dismay at the presence of street wars, particularly in the Barrio.


The 12-foot-wide “Oil Sins” (1998) depicts George HW Bush wearing the faux military outfit Charlie Chaplin sported in his famous 1940 film, “The Great Dictator.” The former president looks out over a broad swath of Middle Eastern terrain, contemplating American domination. Also included are three Trump-themed prints. “Faker Oaths” (2017) features Trump’s face on a container of Quaker Oats; “With Lies” (2020) shows his face on a box of Wheaties; and “Bugged” (2017) presents Trump in the body of a cockroach. Printed on aluminum alloy from a fighter jet, the Kafkaesque image alludes to the former president’s false accusations that Obama had been bugging Trump Tower in 2017.


This exhibition also displays several skulls. “Dead Brainiac” (2012), a memorial to Steve Jobs, tells us that Duffy is an Apple computer fan. “In Your Face/LA” (1992) contains a skull face as a stand-in for a gangster, pointing a gun at us. “Corona Virus” (2020) shows a smiling, crowned skeleton inside a corona bubble.


Portraits in this show include the thoughtful “Pio de Jesus Pico (1801-1894)” (1997) of the last Mexican governor of Alta California. The iconic governor’s white milk mustache, embellished with the words “con leche,” refer to Pico’s profession as a cattle rancher. “Cry Happy” (2001) is a portrait of a beautiful Mexican woman crying tears of joy as she washes dishes in her new Spanish-style home.


Several of Duffy’s works here have historic and political perspectives. “Monsanto Come Caca” (2016), printed onto a Corvette fiberglass hood, includes an appropriation of the Coca Cola design, the blue “Monsanto” logo, and a Santa Muerte skeleton as it spreads the poisonous Monsanto herbicide onto our landscape. (“Come caca” means “eat shit” in Spanish.) “Cover the Earth” (2002) features images of American commercialism and colonialism, including Sherwin-Williams Paints familiar “Cover the Earth” logo, a Coca Cola sign, the Marlboro Man lurking in the background, and a portrait of George Washington.


Washington also appears in Duffy’s “The New Order” (1996) print, which was included in LACMA’s “Made in California” show (2000). This finely detailed piece includes our first President with a chalky white face and a Marlboro cigarette dangling from his mouth, beneath a Marlboro sign. The message here is that Washington helped create our country’s complicity in the abuses of Manifest Destiny. The piece also includes references to the 1990 “Caution” immigration sign, an Indigenous woman and child running along Interstate 5 and the words “PROP 187,” which alludes to the 1994 California ballot measure denying public services to undocumented people.


[To view this show, please call in advance (949) 652-ARTS (2787) or write to [email protected]. — Ed.]

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center

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