There’s a palpable darkness that permeates the surreal oil paintings of Philippine artist Leslie De Chavez. Rendered on large, black canvases, the shadowy landscapes are home to ghoulish, distorted figures and act as settings to various scenes of violence, corruption and suffering. Born in Manila, De Chavez uses his art to reflect upon current socio-political issues that affect his homeland. Through use of powerful text and imagery, his works explore religion, national identity, global capitalism, power struggle, and corruption within modern government. While the works appear dismal and often sinister, De Chavez is driven by the hope that his art can create awareness and inspire positive, progressive change within his community.
The scenes in Mernet Larsen‘s paintings appear familiar, at times even mundane: doing yard work; sitting in a staff meeting; waiting on a subway platform. Yet running through these representations of daily modern life is a distorted sense of reality that suddenly leaves one struggling to find footing within these worlds. Larsen has been painting this way since the early 2000s, channeling both the geometric compositions of El Lissitzky and 12th century Japanese narrative paintings. At the center of her works are block-like characters resembling vintage graphics in an old computer game – both abstract and figurative representations of ordinary people. Applying concepts of reverse perspective and what the artist refers to as “Rorschaching” to insightful, often witty narratives, Larsen inspires us to reconsider the ways in which we relate to the world around us.
The tropical worlds of Pedro Varela (b. 1981 in Niterói, Brazil) look like they belong in a psychedelic dream or the pages of a storybook. And while the artist’s style builds on fairytale imagery and fantasy, his works also engage with history — namely, the 17th to 19th century “artist-scientists” who rendered an exotic vision of Tropical Paradise and the “New World” in their travels to Brazil. Blending Baroque still life, colonial iconography, and modern styles such as Neo-concretism, Varela engages with the past to create his own version of “paradise” that is at once alluring and cautionary.
The late painter Thomas Kinkade, a self-monikered “Painter of Light,” garnered a reputation for his idyllic and realistic scenes that brought him worldwide acclaim. Though his career was avidly followed by enthusiasts of pastoral paintings, some may be surprised by an early involvement with Ralph Bakshi Studios’ “Fire and Ice,” the 1983 cult animated film conceived by Bakshi and Frank Frazetta. Kinkade helped craft the movie’s rich and gorgeously illuminated backgrounds.
Fred Tomaselli’s psychedelic painting/collage hybrids have mind-altering tendencies in more ways than one. Over his career, the artist has earned a reputation for blending psychotropic substances with cut-out photos of animals and human parts to create his surreal works of art. Newer pieces shift the focus to more conventional photo collage and acrylic, yet are no less mesmerizing. Colorful and imaginative, Tomaselli’s works are like portals to an alternate universe, where his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject”.
The hyperrealistic work of Nick Napoletano, a Charlotte, N.C.-based oil painter, is rooted in a classical approach, allegory, and the narratives of today. In a show at Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, Two to Watch, his newest body of work is a conversation between different periods of art history and modern narratives. He’s joined by sculptor Matthew Steele in the show, which runs through Sept. 10. Napoletano can be found on Instagram here, and in explaining much of the content of Two to Watch, Napoletano starts at the beginning.