Viewers who like to trace everything that happens in a work of art back to some imaginary source in the life of its maker are stopped dead in their tracks by Huerta’s faceless heads. It’s impossible to peer into the illusionistic depths of these pictures to see or even imagine the narratives that lie behind them. He has eliminated everything extraneous from his paintings. To step up and scrutinize one is to see that you – and you alone – are all that is “behind” what is depicted in each. Standing there, staring at a painted image of some stranger’s head, makes you realize that Huerta has painted himself out of the picture. As an artist, he is far less interesting in revealing the relationship between himself and his paintings than in inciting viewers to pay attention to what’s right in front of our eyes.
Whenever you feel you have cornered a particular work’s meaning, or nailed down its identity, you soon come to understand that your position – facing the wall, stationary, and silent – mirrors that of the person in the picture. The space behind you begins to loom large in your imagination, filling up, suddenly, with invisible menace and unseen threats. Such a danger-laced situation heightens our awareness of our surroundings, and highlights the various levels of reality we gloss over to get through the day. Huerta’s potent paintings play pleasure against anxiety by bringing both into close quarters with one another. As mesmerizing as they are highly charged, they make the present bristle with the sense that anything can happen.