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Francisco X. Mora

Fantasy and memory at MOWA on the Lake

Dec. 9, 2014
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Alligators sing their evening song with fireflies, a tiger and a horse get into a brawl during an ill-fated dance, while various deer and bulls take up instruments to play the night away. There are human characters too, and they all come together in “Cuentame un Cuento: Painted Stories by Francisco X. Mora” at the Museum of Wisconsin Art on the Lake.

Milwaukee-based Francisco Mora grew up in Mexico and relates his childhood memories to the contemporary paintings in this exhibition. He shares brief stories about each in the wall text, such as his anecdote about the piece called Jaranero (The Music Maker). He describes a mask he saw in Mexico, the sketches he made and how the finished piece represents a self-portrait where he plays a guitar as a fun-loving, masked figure. Music is especially important, as Mora describes, “I have always thought that music was the first cousin of painting. I would have loved being a musician but painting got me first and wouldn’t let go."

Mora’s memory does not let go either, as his art includes people recalled from childhood. Friends, relatives and pets appear, often in humorous fashion. In Una Catastrofe se Avecina (A Catastrophe is Looming) a playful family parrot perches on the back of a chair where his Aunt Maria sits. The bird doesn’t sit quietly but instead is attracted by her luscious, even delicious, pearl necklace. He tentatively takes a pearl in his beak, and what is about to happen with the inquisitive bird and broken jewelry looms like the highpoint of a favorite family story.

The tale is very true to life, and one might ask how much is fiction and how much is reality. Maybe the question should be about the relative equation between memory and imagination. There is a way of describing the past that gets to the essence of how a moment felt rather than how it actually appeared. And that is where the delight in Mora’s work lies, a sense of genuine belief in the fairy tales that are part of true life.

“Cuentame un Cuento: Painted Stories by Francisco X. Mora” continues through Jan. 7 at The Museum of Wisconsin Art on the Lake, located inside Saint John’s On The Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave.

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