Surreal World

At his eponymous gallery, Anthony Spinello has painted the walls of a room near the entrance a velvety brick tone and added white crown molding to suggest a Victorian parlor.

He did so for "Sueño," Santiago Rubino's first solo show, hoping to add an air of mystery to the self-taught artist's impeccably executed and opulently framed drawings.

Something about Rubino's work evokes a sense of déjà vu. The imagery of wide-eyed, dark-haired pubescent vixens in surrealistic settings seems eerily familiar — until the cobwebs clear.


"Sueo" and "'Scape"

"Sueo" and "'Scape": Through January 6. Spinello Gallery, 3436 N Miami Ave, Miami; 305-576-0208.

“The Bungalow Was Surrounded”: Through December 2. Go Go Gallery, 2233 NW 1st Pl, Miami; 305-576-0696.

Two of the prominent pieces could easily be mistaken for Mark Ryden's work, only bled of color. Like the Lowbrow Art star, Rubino favors dreamy landscapes and scenes of innocence with a sinister edge. He even parrots Ryden's trademark ornately carved wooden frames.

Addressing the uncanny similarities in some of the drawings, Spinello acknowledged a strong Ryden influence. But he dismissed notions that his artist was overtly riffing on the well-known painter's style.

Pandora's Box, one of Rubino's larger pencil-on-paper pieces, depicts a teenage tart wearing a corset, nylon stockings, and a garter belt. She holds an open box imprinted with the symbol of the one-dollar bill's all-seeing eye atop a pyramid. The Greek letter omega appears tattooed on the minx's right shoulder, and a phallic obelisk rises turgidly near a cathedral in the background. An alarm clock tumbles out of the box as a model-size galleon floats to the side. Toy animals and a darling bunny crouch over a row of miniature oil derricks at the bottom center of the composition. Rubino even inserts the image of Napoleon Bonaparte astride a go-cart, perhaps a take on Ryden's depictions of Abe Lincoln, who often crops up in his work in a similarly weird way.

In Angel, the largest of the eight drawings on exhibit, the paper's surface has been stained to give it a yellowed, vintage vibe. One of Rubino's batty-lashed, doe-eyed girls sits in a field of flowers with her arms folded in her lap. Fairies and butterflies buzz about the girl's oversize melon head. At the bottom right of the composition, a wan fop riding a tractor/A-frame house hybrid seems absorbed in plowing cemetery crosses and birdhouses. To the dandy's far left, a rodent crowned by a bishop's mitre pops out of a steepled church like a jack-in-the-box.

The show's other, small-format drawings — featuring creepy male and female characters riding tricycles, steamrollers, or toy locomotives towing circus carriages — are precious, but they exude some originality.

There is no doubt Rubino is a talented draftsman, but these smaller works are dwarfed by the undeniably derivative nature of the two large pieces given pride of place. In the end, one can't help but think that where Ryden succeeds in delivering an acid bath, Rubino douses with a cold shower.

In sharp contrast, Adriana Farmiga's exhibit "'Scape," in the back of the gallery, catches spectators off-guard. Even in the artist's most modest works, her penchant for clever visual puns is surprising.

Landscape (Tiffany Envelope), a subtle piece fashioned from a torn aqua window envelope from the tony jewelry company, is pinned to a wall and shows a view of a manicured park through the envelope's transparent panel.

Several examples from Farmiga's Outlets series are also scattered throughout the space. They depict sylvan landscapes inside empty electrical sockets.

One of her more unusual pieces is Black Lightbulb. The minimalist confection is just that: a light bulb painted black and nestled in a small white plastic basket, the kind strawberries come packaged in.

Displaying an economy of execution, the artist somehow gives sculptures such as Horse with Bags an ironic twist. The work consists of a thin metal rod featuring a tiny horse on one end and five plastic shopping bags tied to the other.

With wit and the grace of conviction, Farmiga takes mundane objects and transforms them into artworks that are as mystifying as they are poetically intelligent.

At the fresh-squeezed Go Go Gallery, "The Bungalow Was Surrounded" features more than a dozen large mixed-media works by California artist Greg Miller.

Miller has lifted fragments of imagery from old postcards and magazines and painted snippets of them onto paper he collages on wood and canvas. He also airbrushes closeups of glamorous femmes fatales onto sections of several paintings to convey a sense of Miami Beach's golden era during the Fifties and Sixties.

Eden Roc depicts an ibis flapping its wings, hibiscus flowers, and lush tropical foliage painted onto a field of diluted Pepto-Bismol pink. A tattered ad for a rocket-fin Caddy is pasted near the bottom. The artist encases the work in a thick layer of resin, suggesting that an old fart has preserved some seedy memento in a vacation scrapbook. Miller, who once worked shaping surfboards on the West Coast, slathers all of his paintings in the stuff.

Pool Girl I is an eye-catching work depicting a girl lolling on a raft, painted from a bottom-of-the-pool perspective. The lower quarter of the panel has been bandaged over with decrepit strips of paper. The work is awash in dirty tones of aqua, deep blues, and lettuce greens. The girl's hair bobs in the water like a jellyfish; her poorly modeled limbs dangle from the sides of the raft.

In Flamingo Hotel, Miller adds some sexual tension to the piece by airbrushing a closeup of a woman's face in the upper left section of the painting. The trollop is blurred in muted black, white, and gray tones and juxtaposed against the banal imagery of a landscape. Next to her kisser appears a poolside shot outside a faded Art Deco motel captured in heavy black outline, as if spray-painted on the acid pink background with a stencil. At the bottom of the piece, the artist collages a strip with thick coats of rusted paper, adding a vintage picture of James Bond in bed with a bimbo.

Miller painstakingly weaves threads of vintage commercial imagery while building up and then tearing down his surfaces. He seems obsessed with capturing moments in time by trapping them like insects in amber.

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