Fire & Water Exhibition Spotlight: Spirit on the Water

Julianne Villarreal, Social Media Editor

The California State University, East Bay Art Department hosted its annual exhibition throughout October, inviting students and alumni to submit pieces. Adopting the theme of “Fire & Water,” the contrast between red and blue took center stage among a variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and art pieces, thereby fostering a contrasting, “yin-and-yang” atmosphere. 


A few interactive pieces engaged with the audience directly, such as “Te Voy a Prender el Cirlo” by Amy Diaz-Infante Siquieros. Siqueiros’ work encourages the viewer to channel their wishes and manifest them via a written intention/prayer. Another interactive creation by Michael Hall, “Let Love In”, let viewers scan a QR code and watch a video to interact with.


Andre Rosenzweig-Rivas’ “Spirit On The Water” was particularly remarkable for its departure from the conventional red-blue theme and masterful use of color palettes. An acrylic painting of blended green hues, “Spirit On the Water” featured a lone figure paddling through a viridian-tinted swamp, traversing through the tough yet scenic wilds with tenacious mettle to find a way out. 

“Spirit On The Water,” A.R.Rivas, 2021 (Julianne Villarreal)

Conceived during a time of COVID-induced malaise and environmental crisis instead of the California Wildfires, the 2022 CSUEB alum and Oakland-based figurative painter experienced a wistful yearning for the color green, which he then captured in “Spirit On The Water” as part of his senior showcase. 


“I probably gravitated towards [green] because there was such a visceral reminder of what we’re doing to the planet. And I think it was again from the red rusty sky, I felt like I really needed to see more green in my life, so that’s part of why I chose to also do the water kind of green,” Rivas commented. 


Aside from environmental motifs, Rivas imbues his identity as an indigenous person from the Miskito tribe into many of his works, including “Spirit On The Water.” Living on a world heritage site on the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, Rivas’ native La Mosquitia rainforest and the Miskito community that inhabits it has served and continues to serve as tremendous sources of inspiration for the artist. The color green, for instance, would remind Rivas of the lush rainforest he spent his blissful childhood in. 


The painting funnels the audience’s attention to the Miskito woman sitting in a boat, glaring intently at the viewer. According to Rivas, anchoring the painting on the woman and her compelling gaze was done to counter the common narrative of indigenous women as meek and submissive: “Historically, indigenous people — especially women — were depicted was very docile right? Women were seen as objects and looking away, and so [I wanted to confront that narrative by having the woman] look at the viewer.”


Art can act as a conduit for expression in a way that words cannot describe. Rivas’ painting is one such example, allowing the artist to preserve and convey his perspective and identity in a way that is accessible and unique to him. “I do like all interpretations of what art can be to people, so, but for me specifically I enjoy figurative work and I guess also some amount of narrative in the work. So for me, painting is just another way in which I can tell my story and hopefully, that story can connect with other people,” Rivas stated. 

Looking to the future, Rivas wishes to continue exploring the topic of identity in his work. You can connect with and follow Rivas’ creative journey on his website.