Espinosa's art is not only fun, it's also subversive

Colorful landscapes have no room for gloom

Arts: museums, literature

November 06, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Even in the anything-goes era after postmodernism, the joyfully over-the-top paintings of Spanish artist Luis Perez Espinosa seem slightly subversive.

They're like a Mario Testino fashion shot of a beautiful girl on the beach at Monaco hung next to one of those spooky Joel Peter Witkin tableaux of rotting fruit and severed human heads - I mean, they're just too much fun, too puppy-dog playful, too obviously fabricated for the pure pleasure of the eye to be really seriously serious.

Which is just fine with Espinosa, whose whimsically innocent pink, blue, lime-green and orange-sherbet landscapes are making their American debut this month at Gallery International (the opening reception is tonight from 6 to 8).

Hey, these paintings seem to say, there's already enough suffering in the world, so why not break out the bubbly once in a while?

Or, to paraphrase Dostoevsky, if God is dead, is there anything on Earth more delicious than champagne?

Espinosa isn't the least bit interested in the ponderous burden of Francophile postmodern theorizing that "ambitious" painting today is supposed to embody in order to be taken seriously. He couldn't care less about signs, signifiers and signifieds (what's that other little Saussurianthingy? Semiotics? Oh, gee, I forget).

Instead, Espinosa's straight out of Cindy Lauper, a guy who just wants to have fun - and share it with the entire rest of the world, if possible, or at least with as many people as he can cram into the Charles Street gallery this evening.

Which is, of course, why Espinosa's candy-colored hills and blue-mouthwash skies seem subversive in the first place. It's a mass-appeal thing. It hasn't been so pureed and strained and pasteurized and homogenized that it can only be appreciated as a pleasantly subliminal tinkling on the elite lips of elite taste.

In other words, it's as if he were laughing at all that seriousness that takes itself so seriously.

Still, don't be fooled. Espinosa is a marvelous painter, the kind of ebullient pictorialist who can make peach trees blossom and bear fruit with a few flicks of his brush, or cause rivers to flow furiously or stand still with a motion of his wrist.

His impastos, thick and creamy as pie fillings, are deliciously free-form and exuberant. He works in oils, but his pictures have the inventiveness and spontaneity of watercolors or finger paint.

Postmodernism has been called a curious pastiche of styles that manages to look backward and forward at the same time.

Well, so does Espinosa, whose influences seem to run from Van Gogh to Jackson Pollock to Andy Warhol - but minus the severed ear, the alcoholism, the mental illness, the electric chairs, murderous studio assistants and fatal car crashes.

Espinosa makes it look so easy it oughta be illegal, or at least not art. But it is, and it's spectacular.

Gallery International is at 523 N. Charles St. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-230-0561.

For more art events, see page 44.

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