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January, 1983




Nancy Lurie Gallery

By Mark Michael Leonhart


Of our several artists lumped under the unfulfilling title "neoexpressionist," Clar Monaco is perhaps the only one to whom the values of that term apply. His seven new paintings at the Nancy Lurie Gallery bear scrutiny as a contemporary expressionist style, from their technique and formal values to their ultimate interpretation.


Monaco employs a uniform pictorial formula in these paintings, which a first impoverishes them; yet cumulatively his singlemindedness answers the enigmatic horror screaming from every canvas but one. Each starts with a dense ground of a not unpleasing putty color, a purely formal field of tonal applications of greys and greens modulated with flat restraint for a subtle anonymity. Towards the center of each canvas, however, this field implodes into auras of impastoed fiery or smoky colors, applied with a vigour as great as Ernst Kirchner. These energy fields lick around Monaco's primary figures—sometimes literally as flaming fringes.


In all but one work, the figures are lanky naked women rendered in skins of yellow, green and red pigment for an unavoidably malevolent impression of flesh. Their grisly appearance is enhanced by areas of blood-red, noodle-shaped strokes applied not as anatomical modeling or shading, but as. splashes of violence or creeping leeches on thighs, shoulder-blades and breasts. Monaco compounds this with blank, black pits as eyes, rimmed in red; and the activities of these women are no more appealing.


Punctuated by circumstantial titles such as Of Sleep and Dominance and Aurelia (Her Secret Play), the women are stylized and anonymous as the ground surrounding them. Yet their activities are equivocal at best—most dealing with rituals of violence, or purporting to be simple, formal posing’s. The most specific action occurs in The Rider, although it is still impossible to tell whether the women are attacking a blue horse or defending the dog-wolf which the horse is trampling. But however mutely these women are posed in seemingly mystic rituals, the central thrust of stroke and palette is too easily interpreted.


It is a realm of witches and viragoes, isolated on their putty-colored moors, ringed with fire and caught in unspeakable acts. When the women play with a cross it becomes a conjuring weapon, or a scourge; when they relate to each other it is with dominance, aggression or unholy magic. Everywhere is such revelry• in horror, revulsion, despair, sacrilege and vengeance chat by the time one sees Woman Kissing the Cross—generically a simple portrait-head—its few intimations of serenity are obscured by paranoid suspicion.


Monaco clearly follows expressionist traditions, remaining absorbed in truth of perception and power of presentation with distinctly psychological sources, and adding distinct individuality to purely academic competence. But what may we conclude from his imagery on another expressionist theme, the transformation of social vision? It seems that-the "soul of the subject" (to borrow Otto Fischer's phrase) is the relentless, thorough evil of woman; or an awful confession of primal woman-fear. Neither represents more than things as they are, yet neither is another conclusion allowed from the rigid format and crescendo of repetitions in Monaco's current paintings. Perhaps. as Tiepolo mused, "Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and origin of its marvels."

© Clar Monaco 1977-2016 / All rights reserved.

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