Jim Vogel’s new show, Dr. El Ocio’s Circo Curioso, explores the interactions of an isolated New Mexican village-easily associated with Vogel’s rural home-and an exotic otherworldly circus, circa 1920s. Each painting boasts a colorful narrative, a vibrant atmosphere, and lots of humor. Vogel is always a fantastic storyteller and this series prompted such dialogue at home that, he said, that the whole family half expected Dr. El Ocio to walk through the front door.
The circus attracts a diverse group of characters including the local Nortenyos, who gather to see a giant striped cat (a.k.a a tiger). We don’t see the cat but we do see what the onlookers miss: the enormous pachyderm sneaking out of the train car right behind them. Another work shows Juan De Dios Gallegos, the best cowboy in Northern New Mexico, who catches air on his zebra as it bucks up under a crisp blue sky. At sundown, the Aztec fire masters blow flames while Vidal, an enchanted youngster, stares up at their brazen confidence. According to Vogel, no circus is complete without a flying man, painted here on an arched support and framed by an actual antique birdcage. Also in the mix: Our Lady of Perpetual Tattoos, the roustabouts, gypsy performers enjoying down time, and a myriad of other curiosities best seen to believe.
Dr. El Ocio and his circus invade and astonish the townspeople, and then Dr. El Ocio vanishes in the thick of night. The artist elaborates, “every good showman knows when it’s time to roll out of town (with the lights off).” At just over six feet tall (framed), Dr. El Ocio’s Exit documents this dramatic goodbye in a cinematic portrayal of the smarmy, one-eyed, ringmaster proudly heading a locomotive bustling straight out of town and straight for us! He hangs on with one oversized grip while the other hand victoriously waves his magician’s wand overhead, narrowly escaping the swirling storm clouds behind that allude to some metaphoric uproar. A shooting star dives aside the doc’s towering contrapposto- a cosmic sign that’s as ephemeral as Dr. El Ocio himself. Constantly siting the New Mexico landscape, Vogel references a nearby canyon where the narrow gauge railroad ran. Depicted here in the background, the canyon harbors the lonely giant who stayed behind. Dr. El Ocio’s Circo Curioso isn’t all make-believe and a certain top hat at Blue Rain Gallery lingers as evidence.