Jorge Felix’s painted constructions resemble body parts. But that observation only goes skin deep. He mixes and matches, combining male and female genitalia. The edges are jagged, and sharp objects protrude, breaking the “skin” to reveal raw “guts” beneath the surface.

The work provokes a bit of a shock, especially when you learn that Felix is the product of a strict religious upbringing in a small town south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. His parents were Christian fundamentalists, and for a time he studied in a seminary. Then he discovered art, a vocation his family found difficult to accept. “They were never happy about it,” he says, “until they saw that I could get exhibited.”

In 1995, after graduate school at Bowling Green, Felix packed up his belongings and headed for Chicago in a rented car. The next year was a painful one. “I found myself alone, without family and friends,” he says. “I had to reevaluate what I wanted to do with my life.” He found it tough to make ends meet and took odd jobs while working in the kitchen of a north-side convent. He still wanted to make art, but was dissatisfied with the work he was producing. He began to experiment with stretching–and sometimes ripping–canvas. He added materials to his compositions, such as breadfruit leaves and wire and debris found on the street. The more he experimented, Felix says, the closer he came to finding his own voice.

But Felix’s sculptures–with their violent overtones and obsessive focus on sex organs–may raise more questions about the artist than they answer. He explains that the rips and tears refer to his belief in the soul, an identity hidden from the world. “There’s definitely something more powerful guiding us–it is more important than the physical world and our bodies.”

Felix admits his work is often misinterpreted. One gut reaction nearly left him speechless. At the opening of a solo show last year at the Flat Iron Gallery, he was cornered by a young woman who was fascinated with a work called Sacred. It had a long phallic shape with barbed-wire “halos” adorning each end; the middle was torn, exposing a fleshy red material. The woman felt compelled to discuss the work with Felix. But after a while he realized she was more interested in biology than art. “She admitted that guts really turned her on.”

Felix is one of five artists included in the exhibit “Heads Up,” which opens from 5 to 9 this Friday at the Aldo Castillo Gallery, 233 W. Huron, and runs through February 28. Call 312-337-2536 for more information.

–Marcia E. Gawecki

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): “Resting Place #6” and Jorge Felix photo by Nathan Mandell.