By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
In the Fifties sci-fi classic The Blob, a meteor, pregnant with a deadly strain of star jelly, crashes near a small town, where the goop begins swallowing members of the community. Teenagers race to where the meteor landed and discover an elderly man whose hand has been infected by the weird substance. They take him to a medical office, where the blob also eats the doctor and his nurse. When the kids try to alert the authorities, they're brushed off until the creature attacks a movie theater audience. But by then it's too late.
In "Collapsing Inwards," his tantalizing solo debut at the Kevin Bruk Gallery, Christian Curiel's paintings and drawings, as well as his first stab at sculpture, bring to mind the drive-in movie monster. The works depict youngsters gathered in mysterious bucolic settings made toxic by heaps of car tires dumped nearby.
The boys and girls are seen interacting with a Pepto-Bismol-pink bloblike presence, hinting at unspoken adolescent conflicts. The slick, bright surfaces of the painted scenes belie their imagery, allowing them to worm deeply into the viewer's skull. Rather than implying a narrative, Curiel's moody passages seem disparate, vaguely connected by a fuzzy, self-reflective trawl of memories or cryptic fragments of childhood. The results are riveting in an oddly discomfiting way.
The Procession, a large oil on canvas, depicts a group of boys on a frozen pond carrying a Kraken-like mass of entrails and innards as several girls shimmy in a conga line in the background. One of the lads kneels on the ice and lights candles while another carries a funeral wreath. A third boy, barefoot and wearing a blue hoodie, props up a car tire pierced by a tree branch. Behind him, the sole figure gazing at the viewer gingerly cups a dead blue jay in his hands.
The enigmatic nuance of Curiel's figures and his beguiling mix of curiosity, innocence, and aching exude an unmistakable sense of loss.
Often the artist's figures appear with their features obscured, as in an unnerving drawing titled In and Out, Struggle. The acrylic, ink, and glitter on watercolor paper piece depicts a girl in a bright yellow, orange, and red flower-patterned sundress. She sits before a copse of trees, and the canopy of leaves above her is suggested by splashes of mint and cerulean hues. The girl's pallor is cyanotic, and her lips have been erased. The image conveys a sense that she's confused over disclosing what she feels and thinks. The girl is partially wrapped in a bloblike shawl over which the artist has scrawled barely perceptible words, perhaps hinting that a cruder form of communication is what the silent waif craves.
In a rear room, Curiel pounces on spectators with an insalubrious, quivering opus. Concocted from fiberglass, Magic Sculp, automotive paint, Plasti Dip, salt, glitter, and a chrome rim, The Struggle enables viewers to tap into the central nervous system of his show.
The hot-pink sculpture resembles a swirl of Play-Doh or a cone of soft ice cream, with a tarry black tree branch and tire in the process of being digested by the noxious mess. The mutating jumble is marooned on an island of frost that Curiel deftly created with a dusting of glitter and salt. This is reminiscent of the movie The Blob, wherein the creature was subdued by freezing it and then dumped into the artic landscape, where it could no longer do harm.
Walking around the sensational sculpture, alone in the room, one feels a mild dislocation and can almost imagine becoming transported into Curiel's frozen moments where survival, conquest, and death ooze throughout his deceptively serene yet psychologically charged tableaux.
Next door at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Loriel Beltran's "Process/Processed" is a dendrochronologist's wet dream. These folks are scientists devoted to "the study of tree time." The science is based on the fact that every growth season, a tree adds a new layer of wood to its trunk. Over time, these yearly growth layers form a series of concentric circles. The "tree rings" visible in cross sections of felled trees allow scientists to date archaeological sites and infer local climatic history.
Beltran's solo debut at Snitzer includes several acrylic and enamel paint, tree bark, and plywood pieces that exude a Paul Bunyan-esque vibe and mush the eye sockets into creamed corn.
As the show's title implies, Beltran's work is as much about the process as the paint. He headlocks the viewer into considering the evolution of the work as much as the finished product.
386 Years of Belief mimics natural wood grains so deftly it could give a woodpecker fits. The redwood tree-trunk-wide piece is coated in moss-green, ochre, and creamy bone swirls typical of prehistoric growth patterns. The artist seems to have applied the paint like sedimentary layers of accretion over an expanse of years.
Beltran's legerdemain is a marvel, and in 4'x 8' (Dripped), he controls the contrast between the raw surface of a plywood sheet and his drips of acrylic paint with a maturity and bravado remarkable for an artist who is only 23 years old.
He reduces raw materials into spare descriptions of nature that nearly fill the gallery with the scent of the Northwest.
Another artist who craned necks during the recent Second Saturday openings in Wynwood was Maria Fernanda Cardozo, who peeled the curtain back on Oz at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery. In her solo show, "Mimicry," the Colombian artist who lives in Australia, adopts the emu, that nation's emblem, as a metaphor for exploring the landscape and survival there. To survive in the outback, the emu alters its feather colors, and the artist has used its plumes to create head-turning outfits as a commentary on how humans use fashion to blend in as well as stand out in contemporary society.
During Cardozo's opening, four models paraded around wearing her jaw-dropping Emu Wear gowns.
The must-see exhibit contains videos, photographs, and emu feather sculptures riffing on humankind's complex relationships with the natural world. A Garden of Insects That Looks Like Plants, housed in museum display cases, contains a variety of dead insects with a knack for camouflaging themselves from predators and disappearing in plain sight.
If this winning trifecta is any indication of the quality of exhibits brewing on the back burner, art lovers will be stampeding local galleries this year.