Chicago

Michael Nakoneczny

Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

Michael Nakoneczny’s paintings are frantic and fractured, crowded with figures and signs inhabiting territories of vaguely cubist planes and disengaged areas of splashily applied color. Many of his acrylic-on-Masonite works feature hinged appurtenances, jutting from the sides or the top, suggesting the structure, if not the spiritual references, of medieval altarpieces.

Nakoneczny’s people are crudely drawn, simultaneously childlike and menacing. They move through compositional labyrinths furnished with assorted household objects: washboards, toy trains, claw hammers, and various geometric shapes. Here and there exotic beasts cavort: long-billed birds, bizarre fish, predatory cats. Sometimes animalistic traits appear in the physiognomies of Nakoneczny’s characters. In the lower right corner of Cat and Mouse, 1986, a child of uncertain gender wearing a cap with mouse ears pedals a tricycle, while a feline little boy who also wears mouse ears appears to float in the center and stare with timid apprehension at the surrounding chaos. Floating in the expanse of gray around him are a pair of boxlike houses whose exploding roofs reveal bare interiors with checkerboard floors, and several windows serenely disconnected from the houses out of which they seem to have been blown, each window framing the face of a little girl. A small panel hinged to the picture’s upper-left corner shows a mouse-like superhero when opened, and the little boy’s scowling, tear-stained face when closed.

Rain Check, 1987, features cubist spatial dynamics, each plane containing clusters of roughly sketched figures. Here Nakoneczny has joined sophisticated compositional skills to a kind of faux-naïf drawing. The effect is disorienting, as if figments of a childhood nightmare were let loose in the irrational space of Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism. Further complexities occur in the skin of paint, flecked with bits of collaged newspaper comic strips, dollar bills, and even part of the picture from an earlier Nakoneczny exhibition announcement.

These works are saturated, both pictorially and materially, in ways that suggest strata of memories. Indeed, the shuttered doorway in the center of Cul de Sac, 1987, opens to reveal a tribe of scowling figures. On the inside of the opened panel, two more figures appear, including a woman in profile with bright red scratches on her cheek. The dispute that occupied these characters behind the closed door is interrupted by the curiosity of the viewer, and the exposure of that scarlet wound is as startling and horrific as the vivid recollection of a nightmare.

Buzz Spector