Simon Gendler doesn't make pretty paintings. He didn't have a pretty life. He grew up in the Soviet Union and watched his father--a middle-class Russian Jew--exiled to Siberia with hundreds of other Jews during the repressive 1940s. As an adult, he moved to the city and fell under the influence of the dissident "nonconformist" group, putting his despair to creative ends by painting. A few local shows since his arrival in the United States in 1980 have featured agonized figures and crucifixes in jarring colors.
In current works, despair seems replaced by a scary cynicism. Lurid, thickly bright paint expresses bodies twisted into carnival grotesques. "Holy Family" features a Madonna who looks like a dissipated lady of the night and a teeny, apprehensive holy child trapped in paint. In Russian, the nonconformists were known to starve themselves for days so that hunger and depression heightened creativity. It is easy to use the word excessive when you've been raised in American comfort, but one can't help but notice both the excess and promise in Gendler's Neo-Expressionist works. (Boritzer Gray Gallery, 3110 Main St., to July 9.)