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Nancy Lurie Gallery
1632 N. LaSalle St., 312/337-2882
New Art Examiner


Associating Clar Monaco's art with recent expressionist trends is unavoidable. He not only paints in an aggressively primitivistic and eclectic style, but he also has a penchant for images that are sexually agitated, perverse and cynical. Monstrous images of naked women engaged in bizarre rituals of evil dominance and power characterize Monaco's latest series of works. The paintings' monumental scale and the artist's use of a crucifix motif establish a mystico-religious aura in these paintings. Flame-like brush strokes and venomous colors—clammy green and yellow for flesh, hot red for lips, nipples and labia—predominate.


It should be stressed, however that Monaco disavows allegiance to any current art movements or trends. He claims that none of his subjects are derived from outside sources such as comic books or films. A personal approach is what sets his work apart from so much art that falls under the rubric of "neo-expressionism." His manipulation of the stylistic and art historical codes of expressionism is not calculated, nor is it for its own sake or for the sake of challenging previous reductivist trends in art. His apocalyptic vision derives directly from his own inner anxiety, idealism, and gut-level feelings about contemporary existence.


Can this spiritualistic mode of expressionism be effectively employed today? For Monaco, it results in a seemingly adolescent lashing-out at the canvas and at the world with irreverent imagery that carries flip and clichéd connotations. (For example, his symbolic use of the black cross and dog evoke vampire and werewolf themes.)


The theme that is central to this body of work is the transfer of malign powers with the cross and dog acting as symbolic agents. In Aurelia (Her Secret Play) and She Strikes the Other Away, for example, the touch of the cross appears to be casting a spell of impotence, perhaps even death.


The relationships between the figures in these works undoubtedly reflects Monaco's own experiences as well as his observations of relationships in the world at large. Although the theme of the ominous transfer of powers is not as explicit in The Rider (7'x9'), this particular piece uniquely expresses his philosophy of art and his sources of inspiration, as well as his re-action to the human condition. The title and the presence of a blue horse in this work are unmistakable references to the Blaue Reiter artists, specifically Franz Marc. Unlike Marc's harmonious portrayal of animals that are one with nature and represent spiritual harmony, Monaco's animal and female figures are in a state of tension and conflict. The horse tramples the dog while surrounding women antagonize the horse and its rider. In sum, Monaco is concerned with painting what he believes is a more accurate rendition of spiritual reality. Like the early expressionists such as van Gogh and Kirchner who directly inspire his art, Monaco shows how the power of evil torments man and leads him astray.


Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this work, however, is the fact that Monaco symbolizes his view of humanity through the female figure. If recent forms of expressionist art are male-dominated as some critics have suggested, then does Monaco's work signal a return to the demonic and misogynist portrayals of women which characterized the earlier, male-dominated expressionism?

Price range: $1,000 to $4,000

© Clar Monaco 1977-2016 / All rights reserved.

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