Somewhere between Hell and humanity, Carlos Fragoso’s paintings must live a very real existence. The Brazilian artist, now nearly 60 years old, opened an exhibition last Friday at Gallery 1308 in Union South. The exhibition titled, “The Age of Foolishness,” will be on display until April 9.
The collection of paintings and etchings are imbued with spontaneity. Fragoso has displayed several enormous canvases that seem to stretch from the floor to the ceiling. They depict dreamlike scenes of humans, animals and creatures that fall somewhere in between. The scenes depicted are irrelevant to the purpose of the piece. Each canvas is said to be created without an initial plan, just a feeling or a concept. With layers of thin paint, objects start to solidify and ultimately create figures. Using this technique, forms that make up every bizarre creature have a vibrant distortion that embodies an emotional concept, as opposed to a literal one.
His paintings and etchings are said to be devoid of one true meaning – whatever the viewer brings to the table is just fine. Fragoso, however, went back on this claim last Friday showing that he had a very clear picture of what all his paintings meant to him. He has attempted to make several statements about the nature of man throughout time. His version of Adam and Eve titled, “Original Choice,” stands nearest to the gallery door. In it, a snake-headed Eve stretches seven feet tall, reaching for the apple, supposedly choosing her enlightenment. Nearby, Adam is swinging in a tree, done up like a monkey wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers.
The size of his work is imposing, especially in the confined space of Gallery 1308. His pieces can only be seen fully while standing clear across the room. Individually, they are passages into a separate world he has created that one could easily step into – but in this case you may not want to. There is a darkness to his images that seems to have more in common with religious works of the 1500s than modern art. Wherever and whenever these images are from, it is a coy and intimidating place where the natives seem like they’ll either make love to you or eat you alive.
Sex plays a small, yet noticeable, role in Fragoso’s pieces. In short, it would be tough to find a painting without a penis. He claims, however, that his use of the phallus is intended as a statement of the hypocritical self-satisfaction he thinks society endures from its political overlords.
The essence of his paintings seem to mimic Native American artwork. Likewise, they have a similar allegorical bite. He has attempted to make statements about “the 99 percent” and the fallibility of man. Social commentary in artwork, though, is hit-or-miss. Flippant fad issues of the day seem too shallow to deserve the immortality that such grand artwork affords. In this case, the translation from images to concept seems to fall a little short: the mystery of not knowing their exact purpose makes the pieces significantly more alluring.
Save for the attempt at social commentary, Fragoso’s paintings seem to accomplish what he sets out to do. With more observation, creatures that were once separate seem to form together and vice versa. Viewers can’t help but attribute their own significance and tell their own story. With form and color he has been able to activate the picture plane so that despite their physical impossibility, his subjects truly begin to exist.
Carlos Fragoso’s “The Age of Foolishness” feels out loud. I dare you to not feel it as well.