Textures, ornamentation and materials used by Cleaver draw viewers into works

April 04, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

"My aim," writes Richard Cleaver in an artist's statement accompanying his show at Knight Gomez, "is to create highly textured, excessively ornamented images that evoke theatrical sets or religious altars and shrines." And he does.

His constructions, which have about them the aura of obsessiveness, are densely layered, made of everything from screws to screens to clock parts, and are replete with symbolism. They are reliquary-like; they draw the viewer in through a profusion of bits and pieces of things to an at least symbolically central image, often the representation of one or more faces. These faces turn out to be not gods and goddesses but ordinary-looking people.

For instance, "Requiem," the largest piece here, about 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide, looks like an altar, its base flanked by Gothic windows and its surface covered with layers of overlapping crosses, some wearing watch or clock gears. At the center, double doors open to a single door which opens on the image of the face of a person wearing glasses. The glasses are important, for they See ART, 6F, Col. 4ART, from 1Festablish that this is the face of a contemporary person, not one borrowed from, say, a Renaissance religious painting. In front of this a number of arms are raised as if in worship.

This can probably be variously interpreted, and certainly as cynical, or at least ironic. At one level, it's a comment on the narcissism of the age; it says that what we worship is ourselves.

On another level, it says that religion is a smoke screen concealing nothing. The ordinary face behind all the doors is like the Wizard of Oz, the little man behind the curtain who operates the machine that creates the smoke and flames and amplified voice that enable him to rule by fear.

The cynicism comes in the fact that the messages, feeding on one another, produce nihilism. It's foolish to worship ourselves, but it would be equally foolish to worship anything else.

Cleaver's works may be confusing and off-putting at first, but they stay with you, and sometimes start trains of thought unexpectedly.

The trouble with this show is that it's a bit repetitious. The eight works here look different, but most of them are in one way or another built around that central face or faces, so by the end, Cleaver seems to be putting on one suit of clothes after another to sing basically the same song. "Family Archive," however, is different in its house-like rather than altar-like structure and its lack of at least overt religious references. Perhaps Cleaver signals with this work that he's going to try a new direction.

Nancy Scheinman's mostly small collage/paintings share with Cleaver the use of multiple materials, the look of obsessiveness and references to religion, for her backgrounds are often patterns such as one can find in medieval manuscripts.

There is also an element of mystery to them. They refer, her artist's statement says, to her life; but they reveal little, for the references are often too arcane to be deciphered. Their principal interest lies in their fresh colors and their richly decorative surfaces.

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