Tender paintings by Larry Madrigal share a father's honest view of parenthood
As the global birth rate continues to decline, one Mexican American artist is offering an explanation as to why fewer women are choosing to have babies. In Larry Madrigal's latest series, we see how changing communities and modern life might have impacted parenting forever.
Over the course of creating his new body of work, Larry and his wife conceived and had their second child. As such, we see a tender insight into their private world of pregnancy to parenthood, from being intimate in bed together to back massages and foot rubs. However, viewing the artworks almost feels voyeuristic and rude, as though we shouldn't be seeing what happens behind closed doors.
But one recurring theme is how helpless and redundant Larry seems throughout this journey. Looking a little out of place in hospital as his wife sees their first scan of her womb, you get the sense that he doesn't belong, even though his place is rightfully there, by her side. In another painting, Larry kneels at the side of their bed, praying as his wife sleeps – perhaps even crying. It's an emotional moment, a glimpse at the sense of helplessness a man might feel during this phase of parenthood. The truth is, much of the work is left to the mother. It is she alone who has to undergo pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. It's a life choice that an increasing number of women are choosing to avoid for reasons far too complex to share concisely here.
Titled Work / Life, the series is currently on show at Nicodim Gallery in New York and is called as such for two reasons. The first relates to how the human body is a "functioning production line comprised of flesh and blood and organs that churn out our very existence," as the gallery explains with each of our individual cells "assigned a specific role in the womb. They trigger infancy, childhood, adolescence, and so forth. These cells do their jobs until they can't, and when enough of our collective parts cannot do their work, life ceases."
While the second is how before the French Revolution, communities were structured like a body, continues the gallery. "Like the cells within us, each person's lot in life was set more or less in stone before they were born, and humans procreated to supply the community with more people to fulfil their roles when they perished," it says. "Then, the traditional cells within the community refused to comply with their pre-assigned work, and the old-world system faltered and died. People moved to cities en masse. The transition made it easier for people to improve their stations in life, but it also meant that each of our bodies was no longer necessary for the whole of society to function. Suddenly, your life and your work could be completely unnecessary. Without an assigned role, it is possible to have no role at all. We can fall through the cracks without anyone noticing."
It's this raw sentiment that underlines Larry's beautiful paintings. As he put brush to canvas, he watched his wife's body change while his "pretty much stayed the same". She is a mother, whereas Larry is – well, still Larry. The body of work is the artist's recognition of his predetermined biological roles and his place in society, for which he believes there is no longer a blueprint or safety net.
Each painted narrative reveals a scene only too familiar to many parents. From finding time to make love during the chaos of modern life to seeing his wife's sonogram in the doctor's office – they all show the struggle a man might feel to support one's family in a world that perhaps doesn't always care or listen.
Born in Los Angeles, Larry Madrigal today lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. He recently completed his MFA at Arizona State University in Tempe. His paintings are a "suspension and celebration of the precariousness by which our most mundane daily rituals are balanced on a precipice just above total anarchy". His style is a fusion of the deceptive calm of life that deludes us all and the harsh truth that we are all just flesh and blood.
Work / Life by Larry Madrigal is currently on display at Nicodim Gallery in New York, running until 6 August 2022.