Univision

Two Hispanic artists bridge that ugly gap between "us" and "them," and not because they're trying

Well beyond Meza's envelope-pushing interpretations, it's her visual style that should stun the unwashed and the unprepared. Gestural is too weak a word for her figure-drawing ways, especially since the word's been warmed over in college art classes: Try "explicit," "baroque," "grotesque," "unflinching." David Cronenberg meets Lucian Freud meets Leonardo's figure studies. Meza's conte-crayon-and-pencil women have bodies that breathe and squirm on their own; their hands distend from their torsos with animal-like determination; their eyes gaze out at you with jarring awareness and serenity. Her men (yes, there are men, and babies) have penises that churn and roil toward some unnamed ominous goal. Babies take the milk from their mothers' nipples with voracious mouths, and you can see it flow down their tiny throats.

Meza employs layers of information, each buried under the next and none less important than the last. Her nuances are as graceful as they are overwhelming. Light bounces off every fleshy surface with the ire and precision of Cubism, past and future movement is alluded to through spontaneous lines and guesses. You can see everything, every detail of her characters' physique: toes and toenails, teeth and gums--and yet all of it seems merely implied. The Body Electric as lowly organism, with the eyes the only sign of something beyond flesh and veins and sinew.

Some of her colored-crayon drawings are as airy and delicate as watercolor, with the striation of muscle and bone acting as fragile anchors; some of her dark and sepia-scratched works are as assertive and dense as any smoke-choked religious artifact. Her show-stopper, Last Supper, is a wall-covering monument on canvas depicting Jesus and his 12 disciples as non-gender-specific Malinches, each staring and groping and affecting the poses of other painters' variations on the theme. The figures are wise and dirty, knowing and repulsive. Instead of ever feeling amused or resentful of Meza's unconventional angle, you just accept it as a new kind of questioning reality.

These non-holy femmes seem about as real and valid as any Bible-painted vision of ethereal martyrs, so why not? Why bother struggling over subtext and sub-sub-references when you absolutely "get" the work to begin with? You couldn't miss the gut impact if you tried.

The Passion of Santos, the Ecstasy of Malinche: Steve Cruz and Rosemary Meza. On display at 500X through May 2. 500 Exposition Avenue, Dallas. Open weekends. For info, call

214-828-1111

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