Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 31, 2023

A bit of sunshine

Outside it was gray, rainy, and chilly - a not-quite-spring day that made me long for a bit of sunshine. In the early afternoon, the sun peeked through briefly, only to quickly disappear.

I felt like hibernating, but I dressed and went to town. Artist Pablo Diaz Carballo's "Flowers and Freedom" exhibition was opening at the Manhattan Arts Center, and the first day would include a meet-and-greet.

The weather must have had a similar effect on others, for even though I was just 10 minutes early, I was the first to arrive. Then I saw friend Tony in the office. He's active in the local art scene and the gallery's season sponsor.

When I walked into the exposition, my spirits were lifted immediately. Large pictures of flowers painted in bright colors and bold strokes lined every wall.

Soon, other art aficionados arrived. I heard more than one person say, "These flowers make me happy!" I smiled. It was the same reaction I had.

I love flowers, so it's not surprising I enjoy photographing them and have an affinity for flower paintings. I inherited several from my mother, who dabbled in acrylic and oil painting throughout her life.

Carballo and his family - his wife, children and grandchild - entered the gallery. He has an approachable and engaging nature, so he was soon surrounded by people wishing to chat with him. He was quick to answer questions.

Apparently my reaction to his work is typical. He said at another of his shows, a woman whose husband had died just a few months before told him it was the first time she had felt happy since his death. A man who was seriously ill said the paintings made him feel better.

Among the bright pictures was one composed of more muted colors. It had ivory flowers with soft orange inside and light brown tones on the vase and around the borders. The label said it made Carballo think of his grandmother. When I asked why, he said those softer colors reminded him of the sepia photographs of her time.

Carballo was born in Caracas, Venezuela. In the 1980s, he was one of the protagonists of the punk-rock movement - composed of artists, film-makers, poets, graphic designers and political activists. It was at this time that he began his work as a visual artist and musician. He also studied anthropology and sociology.

In 1999, he co-founded the Ideo Arte Project. Over 15 years, it involved more than 4,600 young students using conceptual art as a tool for social activism. Carballo said the arts promote divergent thinking. He was nominated in 2003 for the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World in Cultural Achievement Award.

But "divergent thinking" isn't something encouraged in Venezuela's current political climate. In 2014, he was temporarily put in house detention by a paramilitary group. His "crime" was his work for human rights and social justice and his opposition to the government. The time seemed right to leave the country.

He and his family moved to Willemstad, the capital city of Cura´┐Żao, in the Caribbean. They remained there until 2019, when they moved to the U.S. and he became a permanent resident. He now calls St. Marys, Kansas home.

Much of his work is focused on a concept he calls "The House of the Inner Being," which explores the state of a person's "house" or intangible inner self that is then reflected physically in the form of structures, windows, doors, architecture, and engineering of the mind.

In the last few years, he has made acrylic paintings on canvas, based on the theme of flowers and bottles. His MAC exhibit, titled "Flowers and Freedom - The expanded concept of Art," is related to his experience in exile. In a panel at the beginning of the exhibit, Carballo explains:

My neighbors spend a lot of time taking care of the flowers in their garden.

Mrs. Moats is an artist in the process of planting and caring for various flowers to create a true work of art in the large garden of her house, which could be directly related to the artists of the Land Art Movement
[an art movement of the 1960s and '70s known as Earth art or environmental art in which materials were often the soil, rocks, and vegetation found on-site.]

In the spring Mrs. Moats had worked for weeks and had already finished all the work in the garden, but the weather in this state is unpredictable; suddenly an unexpected snowfall fell and in one night it ruined all the flowers.

At that moment I realized the metaphor between the beauty and fragility of flowers and the beauty and fragility of freedom.

I consider myself to be a pretty happy person, so I was surprised how much Carballo's exhibit lifted my spirits. If you are in the Manhattan area between now and April 22, you might consider visiting the Manhattan Arts Center at 1520 Poyntz Avenue. It's bound to bring a bit of sunshine into your life.

Top (l-r): a few of Carballo's paintings in the gallery; the artist speaks with visitors while his wife and grandchild look on; the painting that makes him think of his grandmother. Bottom (l-r): a field of flowers that brings to mind works by Van Gogh and Monet; Carballo is very approachable; while flowers are central to most of his works, many also include bottles as holders; flowers in a blue vase

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