News & Features » Miscellany

Frederick Chiriboga emerges after spending 25 years on the fringes of the local art scene.

Finding His Place


The arrival process for an artist is really a series of appearances and disappearances that follow in the wake of the attentions of curators, gallery owners, collectors and the politics of membership and association. In order to be the next big thing on the scene, an artist will have made some important contacts and will have achieved some significant visibility and media attention — for the media is ultimately the gatekeeper of fame.

Therefore, selecting an artist who meets the criteria of going from obscurity to celebrity leaves us wishing to make a long list, in the event that such a choice could propel the fortunes of many highly deserving artists. However, it is Frederick Chiriboga who most fits the description of a virtually undiscovered artist who might potentially turn out to be the Next Big Thing. He is a maverick — a radical personality who also makes fascinating, difficult, eccentric and satisfying objects — lots of them.

Chiriboga's recent emergence from obscurity has been precipitated by the opening of Aquiles Adler Gallery, 228 W. Broad St., a joint venture with his wife, Birte Christensen, to get Chiriboga's work out into the world without having to submit to the caprices of the art industry.

Chiriboga says he has "a phobia of belonging," and has kept himself isolated from a local art world that is fairly indigenous to Virginia Commonwealth University's energetic and powerful art department. The strange leather-wrapped objects that Chiriboga makes even suggest that phobia. He likes to use the term "artifacts" to describe his dark idiosyncratic sculptures that incorporate any manner of abandoned remains — everything from animal bones to doll parts to mechanical components. "Artifictions" might more accurately describe them, however. These sculptures are falsifications of modern culture where Chiriboga manipulates its popular artifices and its organic properties to create something new that is curiously mystical, humorous and horrifying.

Chiriboga developed his interests in leather stitching and metalworking while growing up on a 19th-century farm in Ecuador, where every essential need of the farm was provided through manual labor. He observed his grandfather hammering bent nails for reuse, which gave him a respect for the value of even the most humble implements of utility and progress. He hung out in the cobbler's shop where he learned to stitch leather and to consider its malleable visceral quality, as much as the offering of its once living source. Following college at Wayne State University in Detroit, he moved to Richmond and began a job at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, working on exhibit installation for Pinkney Near. It was then, 25 years ago, that he began to solitarily develop a body of work of both sculpture and painting. Chiriboga's aesthetic is decidedly European in style, being physically sensuous and erotic, and intrigued by the subliminal.

While his sculpture strikes one immediately as his finest and most extraordinarily inventive work, Chiriboga asserts a preference for his surrealistic, overtly erotic paintings. He described these painting as the more intellectual pursuit, while assigning his sculpture the role of a tactile exploratory practice. But Chiriboga's disinclination to reverse that emphasis just may be the biggest thing standing in his way.

Chiriboga, like many artists, observes a deep reverence for his inspirational guides. In both his painting and his sculpture, the surrealists and dadaists are never far away. But while dadaism, the primary root of his sculpture, enjoys a richly convertible life therein, surrealism as a painting style has become a little too vernacular, and could hold someone with tremendous potential for recognition in check. However, Chiriboga is just out of the warren with the advent of his new show space. Here's to his

Add a comment