With the 14 pieces in “Diaspora,” his Kiechel Fine Art exhibition, Francisco Souto returns to his examination of the humanitarian tragedy taking place in his homeland of Venezuela that has been the subject of his last two bodies of work.

But, as always, Souto does so in a new, unique fashion, “framing” his colored pencil drawings of birds, flowers and rocks with boxes colored inside and out.

That technique, which I’ve not seen before, creates a surface luminosity as the interior box color reflects off the meticulously drawn, layered, and varnished imagery. The five colored stripes airbrushed onto the outside of the boxes takes them beyond frames to become sculptural objects rather than simply holding drawings. .

The stripes also connect to Souto’s previous exhibitions, 2016’s “A Memory in Peril” and last year’s “Dicotomias.” The stripes, which represent Venezuela’s national colors, appeared on the bottom of the drawings in those shows.

Further connecting to previous exhibitions, his depictions of Venezuelan people, done in black and white, in “A Memory in Peril” return with “What About Us,” a drawing of a young girl holding a bright yellow soccer ball and “Onward” in which a mother pulls a suitcase, holding the hand of a young girl, whose clothes are in color.

The use of colored pencil is a direct link to “Dicotomas” as is “Very Little Bird (After Chavez),” a depiction of a dead bird that repeats an image from the 2016 show — a representation of the Brazilian government taken from a speeches by president Nicolas Maduro, who uses an imaginary bird to stand in for his predecessor Hugo Chavez. Most Venezuelans, Souto says, want that bird to die.

“Diaspora,” like “Dichotmas” is primarily made up of symbolic images, including a line of rocks representing the people forced out the country, that carries the exhibition’s title.

Its most powerful statement, however, comes in “Bolivarian Revolution,” a still life of wilted tulips, drooping over the sides of their vase — an image the encapsulates the failure of the revolutionary movement begun by Chavez in the 1980s that he brought to power 20 years ago.

Other images are both literal and symbolic. The piles of brightly colored clothes and blankets of “Set Aside,” “Left Behind” and “Resilient” and, most effectively, the stack of women’s shoes of “Path.”

That set of images also expands “Diaspora” beyond Venezuela, easily becoming symbols of forced migrations in the Middle East, Africa and central America — another step forward for Souto’s deeply felt art rooted in the tragic displacements of our time.

There is, however, a single area of optimism inside and outside the objects.

“The color of all the pieces reflect the hope, the optimism the Venezuelan people have,” Souto said at the exhibition’s opening. “That color is for them.”

As always, the works are beautifully crafted, clearly carefully created by Souto, who began his career as a printmaker, moving to drawing after a shoulder injury prevented him from making prints.

It’s also impressively notable that all 14 works were created in 2019 while Souto spends four days a week outside his studio working as director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Art, Art History & Design.

Completing “Diaspora” is a set of Souto’s previous work, from a 2006 mixed piece that marks his transition from printmaking to drawing, “Zacatecas No. 3,” from 2013, his first drawing to include people and pieces taken from the previous exhibitions.

That group of drawings puts Souto’s new pieces in context, showing both the development of his work, a process that takes a leap to another level with the powerfully symbolic sculptural objects of “Diaspora.”

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