April 16, 2008

The Neo-Surreal in the Art of Marcelo Novo

If ART Gallery on Lincoln Street in Columbia, South Carolina is featuring the paintings and prints of one of my top twenty-five favorite artists in South Carolina, Marcelo Novo. It is rare for a commercial gallery to offer an historical perspective on an artist’s work and the curator, Wim Roefs, should be commended for offering such an exhibition. Mr. Novo’s work in the exhibition was produced from 1985 to 1994 and illustrates an unfolding vision of neo-surrealistic figuration.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Marcelo Novo studied with Roberto Aizemberg, who was greatly influenced by first generation surrealist painters. Throughout his own development as a painter, Mr. Novo has retained a dream-like narrative in his work characteristic of that generation of painters. Some of his earliest non-figurative works are reminiscent of the paintings of Yves Tanguy - landscapes of the unconscious replete with monumental sculptures. The silvery grey, black and white modulations in paintings such as “Dale que venga” are exquisitely refined and satisfying.
It is captivating to see the evolution from these early sculptural paintings to the later works when the machines become environments populated by cuneiform figures in a Novo civilization. What particularly attracts me to these forms is the kinship they appear to have to Mayan glyphs - pictures as language. Indeed all these paintings seem to tell us stories - wonderful stories of passion and triumph.
Two drypoint and monotype works that stand out for me are “Untitled (Man Hands Up 1)” and “Untitled (Man Hands Up 2).” There is rich texture and linear detailing of the black forms on a sumptuous ivory paper. Like scrimshaw on a whale tusk, it commands much more than a cursory glance to take it all in. There is a tale that unfolds here - making us wonder just what it is that the raised hands intend. They look too self-contained to be suppliants. Are they crossing themselves to ward off evil? Are they attempting to hide their identities? Or are they making a display of the power of hands that bring art into being?
The opening reception is 5PM - 10PM on Thursday, April 17. The show is up until May 7. Catch it if you can.

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