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THE ART GALLERIES

Wilshire Center

October 02, 1987|Cathy Curtis

Illinois poet and performance artist Nicholas Africano came to the fore as a painter in the mid-1970s. He quickly developed a regional reputation as a true naif, setting crudely rendered relief figures in literary and theatrical contexts in order to explore psychological and autobiographical themes. At times these have bordered on painful confessionals, revealing the artist to be a solitary, sometimes anguished soul.

His most recent paintings and figurines continue this narrative through a series of revealing self-portraits collectively titled "Still Human." Working in a thick and clearly difficult combination of oil and wax, Africano presents himself nude or shirtless against amorphous brown backgrounds that resemble drying adobe. Crudely drawn in predominantly black-and-white hues, the figures are engaged in mundane activities like sitting, smoking, carrying flowers or peeling an apple.

Stylistically, one is reminded at times of the tortured fragility of Bacon or the abraded surfaces of Leon Golub, yet where their figures tend to dominate the composition, Africano's shrink as if afraid of being engulfed by it. This is a world where simply surviving another day seems a major accomplishment, and although there is a tendency toward self-indulgent martyrdom (the cliche of the suffering artist), Africano offers enough poignancy to evoke a more sympathetic response. (Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 N. La Brea Ave., to Oct. 24.)

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