Felix Semper’s Dynamic Humanist Vision

Seventeen, Paintings 36 x 48

Felix Semper, who was born in Havana Cuba, has lived in both Spain and the United States, and now resides in north Carolina, is an artist with remarkably fluid draftsmanlike abilities, which shine through his paintings as well as his drawings. Line is his natural instrument, regardless of what medium he may be employing in any given work. Yet he is also a fine painter, with an oil on canvas technique that at its most richly embellished can recall the Art Nouveau of Gustav Klimpt by way of the Abstract Expressionists.
    Although this could sound like a contraction in terms, the combination comes across elegantly in “Into the Mist,” with its sense of figures partially concealed and fragmented within a veritable forest of jewel-like hues, and “Arbol de Vine,” where slightly less obscured female nudes play hide-and-seek amid  a show of pale blue rivulets.
    By contrast, in “Eleven,” a large monochromatic composition in acrylic and oil on canvas, the Abstract Expressionist element in Semper’s work comes across most forcefully. For from a distance, this jam-packed painting has an intricacy and an energy comparable to Jackson Pollock’s compositions in black and white enamel. On closer viewing, however, rather than abstract swirls a multitude of slightly distorted figures comes into focus, each one with individually delineated features. They are all crammed together in a manner that can also remind one of Jean Dubuffet’s compositions, as well as the Berlin Street scenes of George Grosz.
    One can only venture a guess that the large numeral “11” near the top of the canvas may refer to September 11th, which makes one flash back to the films and photos one has seen of the crowds in downtown New York fleeing through the streets in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Thus this composition can be interpreted as a powerful  contemporary history painting.
    Another large work in acrylic and oil on canvas by Semper called “Seventeen” does not lend itself as easily to historical interpretation. This one is nearly monochromatic, except for the addition of blue accents to the black and white palette. It features many smaller figures swirling around a large head at the center of the composition. The head looks agonized, Christlike, albeit with more ethnic features than the images of a Waspish Caucasian Jesus that one is accustomed to encountering in most official Christian representations of the Savior. This head is boldly outlined in a drippy Abstract Expressionist manner, in contrast to the smaller surrounding figures and heads, which are all nude and comporting themselves in various unusual ways –– yet each appears set apart in its nakedness from the others. However, all seem aware of the monolithic power, of this large central head which, in its grimacing agony, could appear to be suffering for all of humanity.

    Another strong large monochromatic painting in a perfectly square 50" X 50" format, simply titled “Heads” consists mainly of nude figures set against a black ground. Some stand, others recline. Some have additional heads looking out from where their genitals would normally be. The most obvious, (if not necessarily most correct) interpretation of this image might be that so much that occurs in sex resonates more in the head than in the body.
    At the same time, Felix Semper does the beauty of the human female body much justice in his Egon Schiele-like ink drawing “Mascara,” as well as “Four,” a large acrylic and oil on canvas, in which a contemporary Lady Godiva on a suitably comely white steed gathers an admiring crowd (one of whom stands out for being a dead ringer for Che Guevara in his iconic beard and beret), even though she is wearing black rimmed glasses and holding a briefcase.
 –– Peter Wiley 

Felix Semper, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th St., November 22 - December 13, 2013.  Reception: Thursday, December 5, 6 -8 pm.

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