I almost knew him in person, he died last year. I was given the opportunity to talk about his work for the next exhibit at the University Art Museum (UAM) here at CSULB. It has been more than two months when my search for information about him was done and ready to be presented to the docent volunteers I meet every Tuesday morning.
Albert Contreras died June 17. He was found in his recliner at his studio apartment, opera playing, loudly, on his stereo, said his Los Angeles art dealer, Peter Mendenhall. The cause of death isn’t known. He was 84.
Contreras was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. He had slowed down a bit in the studio, but he was still making work, experimenting with new colors and new materials. He did an abundance of X’s and O’s in the most colorful way. Vibrance, audacity, and boldness made his work be admired and acquired by collectors, museums, galleries, and universities in Los Angeles, New York, and Sweden.
Sincerity, faith and love or simple good friendship is XOXO and recently we started to use it as a shortening end of a message or letter ending. Many persons would like to have Albert Contreras work in their homes, in stationery paper, or even just a photograph of his art close to them, to invite kisses and hugs in their daily mood.
Although we can use the X’s in a different way like in eXtra like extra-terrestrials, seXe like the hidden part of us or X like the unknown in Math which is the new field to discover. Or words related to our personal life like? eX-boy friend, eX-girl friend? Or eX wife, eX-husband and so many other X meanings. For sure those Xs evocate? Something? To each of us and whatever it is we can’t get rid of it. As Beatrice Chassepot, point out in an article on March 17, 2012.
X’s and O’s started long time ago. The common custom of placing “X” on envelopes, notes and at the bottom of letters to mean kisses dates back to the Middle Ages, when a Christian Cross was drawn on documents or letters to mean sincerity, faith, and honesty. A kiss was then placed upon the cross, by the signer as a display of their sworn oath. It was also used in early Christian history as much of a display of the same.
Since most of the common people could not read or write, the ‘X’ was placed on documents, and a kiss was placed over it as a show of their sincerity.The Chi Rho often represented with the letter X was also used as a holy symbol throughout Christian history as it represented the Greek word for Christ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ; this gave rise to the practice of using the letter ‘X’, which was then kissed in this tradition of displaying a sacred oath.
There is speculation on the Internet from at least one original source that the ‘O’ is of North American descent: when arriving in the United States, Jewish immigrants, most of whose first language was Yiddish, would use an ‘O’ to sign documents, thus not using the sign of the cross, and shop keepers would often use an ‘O’ when signing documents, in place of an ‘X’.
While their origins are distant, the use is right there, in our frequent communications of the time. Thanks to Albert Contreras we have the “Kisses and Hugs” symbol in mixed glitter imprinted into gel medium, along with sand, ink and a dazzling rainbow of iridescent pigments. With colors — screaming and sensuous — turning their back on subtlety for a kind of eye-popping outlandishness, which, is actually sophisticated, idiosyncratic, original, appealing and intelligent.
I haven’t done my first presentation in person, it have been delay constantly due to third party issues. But you can find it in the internet and the mayor social media websites. These are the days of our life; nevertheless we have a creator of the most significant symbols, of today from the past, in the most creative way, as a gift to all of us. Maybe you will encounter his work in the most public places. His ubiquitous influence is and was felt by many Angelenos.
(Some of his works will be presented at the UAM-CSULB winter exhibit)