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Protest Meets Grandeur in the Art of Kiko Sobrino

Hope, Paintings, 39.5 x 39.5

The Brazilian artist Kiko Sobrino employs a number of techniques –– including acrylics, ink, serigraphy, and even computer graphics on canvas and wood ––  to creates works that move fluently between the figurative and the abstract. Yet he is adamant in his insistence that “my formation is from the classical school of arts.”
    Thus, while the fine grids, achieved through screen printing, that he features in his work may echo those that many abstract artists employ to anchor the two-dimensional picture plane, they also evoke those that classical artists routinely employed to transfer drawings to the canvas before beginning the painting process. And certainly there is a sense of classical values, as well as romantic ones, in Sobrino’s compositions, to which he refers as “visual poetry.”
    Although he embraces a wide range political and societal concerns, ecology appears to take precedence in many of his mixed media works. In the ironically titled “Greener World,” the  boldly brushed grass growing wild within the four panels of the cruciform format (which makes the omnipresent  grid suggest that we are viewing the scene through a screened window) is of a dull green hue, as though covered in a layer of industrial soot. And over it discarded rubber automobile tires are scattered, as if in a parody of the lily pads gracing Monet’s pond. The world Sobrino shows us is one in which nature is so overrun with the detritus of modern society’s consumer goods that these castoff products blend in with the environment so thoroughly as to almost transform nature into a synthetic version of itself. 
    Indeed, in Sobrino’s skillful hands this negative synthesis attains what William Butler Yeats once referred to memorably as “a terrible beauty ” –– or, at very least, a kind of romantic grandeur, as in the work called “Making Clouds.” For in this image of smoke stacks as black as thick charcoal sticks spewing smoke to engulf and pollute their surroundings, what one can still see of the toxic sky beneath glows with a phosphorescence reminiscent of J.M.W. Turner’s “tinted steam.” Indeed, Sobrino’s compositions suggest a turmoil comparable to some of that great British master’s paintings of sea battles –– only with the battle being waged by industry against the very air that we breathe.
    Also possessed of a grudging beauty is another ironically named composition, “Clean City,” in which two brilliant orange blue plumes of flame, burning brilliantly against the vast darkness of a nocturnal sky, reminded one viewer of similar flames he once glimpsed through the window of a train traveling at night through a desolate stretch of New Jersey, bursting from two chimneys just beyond a billboard proclaiming with considerable civic pride: “Trenton Makes –– The World Takes.” Here,  even in the act of cautioning the viewer against the excesses of industry, the artist discovers a hellish radiance.
    But perhaps Kiko Sobrino’s most emblematic statement is one in which a single large flower, somewhat akin to those in Andy Warhol’s campy floral wallpaper paintings, is partially obscured by a gray grid and set against brash black abstract expressionist  brushstrokes which boldly negate any lyrical affect such a subject might provoke. Once again, this innovative and thoughtful artist invites us to contemplate a world in which the degradation of nature has become a way of life.                                                                                                                                                                               –– Julio Valdez

 Kiko Sobrino, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, January 17 - February 7, 2012. Reception: Thursday, January 19, 6 - 8 pm.

 

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