Carlos Alfonzo

McMurtry Gallery

Carlos Alfonzo’s new paintings are roisterous and roiling. They project their energy with a hyperkinetic force that can confound equilibrium. Like primal episodes, they appear self-created; they seem more like witnessed events than designed objects, their fecundity and ferocity barely contained at their borders.

Alfonzo’s primary gesture is a sweeping curved line whose trajectory loops into figure-eights, tightens into whorls, and arcs to intersect with other curves. Shift, 1987, is filled with pinwheeling vortices; in Image and Fact, 1989, sweeping segmented shapes resemble the rungs of black ladders. Despite the seeming appearances of eyes and heads, breasts and bellies, the parts don’t resolve into bodies. These linear fictions delineate something independently proportioned, beyond optical synthesis.

Like Wifredo Lam, who built knowingly on a syncretic Afro-Cuban tradition of painting, Alfonzo has cultivated a primitivizing sensibility, one sensuously attuned to mysterious ritual as well as to art history. More cultural anthropologist than authentic initiate, he uses indigenous imagery to convey the ineffable allure of psycho-spiritual experiences. In Sleepy Women, 1989, a hot coral center is framed by deep blue sides. Tall bulbous and beaked creatures appear to stand guard left and right, two pointed probes ascend at the center, and floating diagonally across the base is a vulvalike vessel. Gushing streams seem to speak of an abundant fertility.

Alfonzo reveals an exuberance at depicting the forbidden. There is no political circumscription here, nor delimiting dogmatism; no psychic restraint, nor material reticence. The liberated effulgence emanating from this series has its specific correlative in the vigor of the gestural language. Daggers, feathers, horns, and knives become ladders, nails, wheels, and crucifixes, as well as teardrops, tongues, eyes, hands, and breasts. It is as though Alfonzo has spliced together André Masson’s most voracious psychosexual allegories with Max Beckmann’s nightmarish persecutions. Alfonzo compresses his tableaux until they conclude responsively at the limits of each canvas, a self-imposed restraint which seems to signify his faith in a formal order. He forces the most intense and privately experienced events into a deliberate framework. Conversely, the borders act as prosceniums for the heady dramas within.

Joan Seeman Robinson