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Triton Museum: Wandering in the White Wilderness of Hector Dionicio Mendoza

A massive, towering man leans face forward against a high wall of the Permanent Collection Gallery at Santa Clara’s Triton Museum of Art.

His palms and lower arms are flattened against the wall. They are reaching upwards, touching the ceiling. The giant man’s legs, spread apart for balance, are like trunks of a tree. Indeed, the legs are made partially of strips of wood bark.

Why is the man leaning against the wall with his arms up? Is he being frisked? Is he resting, exhausted from attempting to climb the wall? Is he holding it up, trying to keep it from falling — perhaps on him? Is he on the inside or the outside? Who is he? What wall is it?


“Holding, Leaning, Pushing” (2019) by Hector Dionicio Mendoza is a riveting sculpture in the Mexican-born, California artist’s powerful solo sculpture exhibit White Wilderness/Maleza Blanca.

Mendoza created White Wilderness/Maleza Blanca at the invitation of the museum. Chief Curator Maria Esther Fernández was first impressed with his work about seven years ago when he was part of a group exhibit at the Triton. She kept him on her radar for the future for a major, solo exhibit.

“This is new art he created for this exhibit,” said Fernández. “It’s very beautiful, compelling work about wilderness, class migration, displacement.”

Mendoza, who received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University in 2009,  began exploring the idea of wilderness while an artist in residence at Villa Montalvo in 2015.

He was a resident artist with Recology San Francisco in 2004, so it seems logical that he would use found objects and materials such as driftwood, concrete blocks, corrugated cardboard, paper and broken glass in the creation of his sculptures.

Another sculpture on display at the Triton is called “Mariposa/ Butterfly” (2019).

“It’s about life,” he said. “Life is very ethereal. It’s fleeting. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

The beautiful wings of the giant butterfly are connected by a piece of driftwood. But the surprise is its antennae — a fist painted gold. 

“My work is a social statement, a commentary on society. Visions from daily life are points of departure for my work,” said Mendoza, who lives in Monterey and is an assistant professor in the Visual and Public Art Department at California State University Monterey Bay.

“The concepts I have used in my art are chosen as they are introduced via mass communication media or through personal experiences,” said Mendoza.

Mendoza’s wilderness of sculptures, the large pieces carefully crafted for assembly and disassembly, fills an almost 2,000-foot gallery. It can be viewed now through Nov. 3.

But perhaps the sojourn of White Wilderness/Maleza Blanca at the Triton is just the first step in its wilderness journey.

“Through their beauty, [Mendoza’s] works — impressive, overwhelming, and poignant — create a space that reflects the feelings any of us might have standing at the precipice of wilderness…,” said Fernandez.

Admission is free to the Triton Museum of Art (, 1505 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara. It is open daily except Mondays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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