Bold drawings give DACA recipients a face in STC exhibition


Delving deeply into his core, South Texas College art instructor Luis Corpus engages the viewer in his exhibition, “Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon.”

His charcoal portraits form a mini-community in the newly renovated gallery space at STC’s Mid-Valley Library, but these are not just portraits; Corpus has a lot going on. The physical aspects of these works are instantly engaging with hyper-realism combined with more expressive charcoal effects for a heavy dose of aesthetic tension. He is a master of charcoal portraiture, and delights in coordinating appearance, technique and meaning.

His hyper-realism and charcoal formalism combination are far from accidental. The people Corpus draws are tightly wound for positive forward motion, bursting with their own determination. Many of his subjects entered the United States illegally and are DACA recipients (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). By paying a bi-annual fee of $495 that allows them to work here legally, Corpus sees his subjects embodying the idea of deserving individuals. Powerful in their beauty, the drawings persuade us to step a little closer.

Corpus owns the unmistakable beauty of his drawing technique, seeing it as evoking a pleasurable emotional response. When seen and felt, beauty is a way to capture the viewer’s interest, which then can give way to more important ideas. The faces look directly at us with a determined will to succeed. The absence of names or titles accentuates the anonymity of the subjects to our larger society. Random flecks of charcoal on the faces and looser, tangled markings along the necks and into the long hair in drawings such as “Drawing 4,” suggests a metaphorical emergence from the Rio Grande and the thick brush along its banks. We are shown every crease, shadow and flash of sunlight that falls upon these faces.

Born in this country shortly after his parents crossed the Rio Grande, Corpus also feels the dual nature experienced by many people in deep South Texas. The majority of people living along the Rio Grande are descendants of Mexico, but not Mexican nationals, and Corpus sees them in his works as people in between, or people of the river.

Many DACA recipients were brought to the United States when they were very young and only know America as their home.

In addressing this physical and psychological river presence, he slides into scientific considerations; instead of typically using an image of the Rio Grande, his unique approach uses the actual place. Corpus collected branches from the river bank, charring them until they became sticks of charcoal.

“Charcoal is one of the oldest materials,” he commented. “Thirty-thousand years ago, charcoal was being used to create images, and here I am 30,000 years later, still using this material, creating from the human core — who I am.”

His drawings are finished when he drenches them with water also collected from the river. The completed drawings are literally hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon — the same elements that comprise 90 percent of the human body.

“This completes the elemental basis of man, water giving life to the inanimate,” Corpus said. “The process seemed to me ritualistic, spiritual, as if the drawings are being baptized. If the composition of this saturated mass is strikingly similar to my person at a molecular level, perhaps this drawing is within my same sphere from the perspective of the universe.”

At that point he has manifested a heritage of the Rio Grande, and It’s a personal journey for the artist as well. “Using materials from the river helps me define who I am,” he concluded.

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Nancy Moyer, Professor Emerita of Art at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, is an art critic for The Monitor. She may be reached at [email protected]


What: “Luis Corpus: Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon”

Where: STC Mid-Valley Campus Library Art Gallery, 400 N. Border Ave., Weslaco

When: Through Dec. 1

Hours: 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday

Info: Gina Otvos at (956) 872-3488 or [email protected]

Cost: Free