Newport Harbor

David Amico

Newport Harbor Art Museum

David Amico appears to be as intent upon avoiding a singular style in his work as he is upon establishing a singular sensibility. His commandeering of a multiplicity of styles from painting to painting—or even within a single painting—functions to support an unabashedly romantic attitude of mind which is capable of revealing itself in any number of ways. While only rarely quoting directly (and then, more often than not, only from popular culture, bastion of image replication), Amico chooses styles that draw on a lengthy romantic lineage, from Caspar David Friedrich to Paul Gauguin, from “Modern Romance” comics to Mexican pulp graphics.

Rather than inventing a personal style, Amico dips into the potentially unlimited number of existing cultural styles. In denying the limitations inherent in stylistic “uniqueness” or “originality,” this broad embrace allows for the utmost in mobility. It is a manner reminiscent of the pre-Modern concept of “elective affinity,” in which the artist relies on an emotionally based choice to link the personal with the cultural. In a painting called To Fall With Love the central image of a man and woman is taken from a slick, “Modern Romance”-type graphic and is overlaid with the now-clichéd emotionalism of gestural Abstract Expressionist paint. These two late-20th century romantic archetypes—one the vernacular language of so-called “low” culture, the other that of so-called “high” culture—are married in the painting, but with none of the irony of a Roy Lichtenstein brushstroke of benday dots.

Nature, as a distinct and self-sufficient entity separate from culture, has been expunged from these canvases. In the identical imagery of two of the paintings, Sun Study and Moon Study, a painter holding a palette is situated at the extreme left, intently gazing at the world beyond the edge of the canvas as if contemplating what to create; behind him a rolling garden landscape unfolds. For the plein air painter, whether by the bright and rational light of day or the emotional, reflected light of the moon, the romantic myths of nature are literally behind him. In Amico’s work nature exists only in the human sensibility, like the cluster of birds that flutter as mirages about the gargantuan portrait head in the pointedly titled Pyrrhic Victory. Nature and culture are virtually indistinguishable from one another, and painting itself thus becomes the child of nature.

In a work called Crowd, a nondescript crowd of people seen from behind has been quickly sketched in black paint. The figures recede into the distance, gradually becoming nothing more than abstract markings which eventually coalesce into a dense, solid, black plane—the very plane at which the crowd itself stares and out of which it bleeds. Amico’s painting is beheld by us as the crowd beholds the mute black plane. It is as if Friedrich’s Monk in Monk by the Sea—the lone figure set on a barren promontory against a desolate horizon, contemplating the vastness and overwhelming mysteries of nature—had been joined by a throng. itself set on a human promontory against the desolate horizon of culture, contemplating the vastness and overwhelming mysteries of art.

Christopher Knight