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Art in America
March, 1984

Clar Monaco at James Varchmin

By Michael Bonesteel


Clar Monaco's monumental-sized expressionist paintings evoke the primordial and pagan. With this, his third one-man Chicago show in two years, the young artist continues his saga about a wild tribe of naked women performing mysterious rites. While the last show women with dogs and horses, this one introduces men and a goat. Some of the more violent and sinister rites—such as women on horseback trampling dogs or wielding black crucifixes like weapons—have disappeared, replaced by calmer rituals involving fire: in Drawing Circles, four figures trace magic rings around themselves and set them on fire.


Monaco's tribe has green tinged faces, red-rimmed eyes and bodies blotched by thick daubs of paint that may represent hairy black stubble, blood-red rashes or war paint. His figures are built up in a crusty impasto, while his backgrounds tend to thin out into a brown or gray haze. There is little attempt at refinement in either his tormented portraits or his group scenes—though Monaco has softened slightly the grotesque animalism of his tribe. The viewer is left to explain these remarkable scenes on his own. These people are not cavemen: they look like us, not our ancestors. On a symbolic level, then, they might represent our archetypal selves, stripped of social and cultural baggage. On a more literal level, however. they might be members of some post-nuclear race that has reverted to primitive ways and instincts. There is certainly nothing comforting about the figures in these grim paintings. At least they are survivors—malevolent and raw, perhaps, but very much alive.


Originally from Spokane, Monaco is 29 and a graduate of the University of Chicago—an oddity in a city dominated by figurative artists from the School of the Art Institute. The power of his expressionism, like any worth its salt, is strong emotion. Monaco's ugly/ beautiful paintings have a directness which seems to bypass guile—an immediacy that is both deft and unabashedly crude. It will be interesting to see how this energetic painter develops.

© Clar Monaco 1977-2016 / All rights reserved.

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