New York

Fidel Marquez

56, Bleecker Gallery

Fidel Marquez is an exotic, even weirdly Gauginesque artist, but his large canvases and small drawings are more like tropical takes on the personal than vice versa. His paintings may be abstract but it doesn’t take long to dig up the source of his imagery: namely, that jungle seen in X-rays of the human body and through biologists’ microscopes. Marquez isolates and enlarges biological shapes, giving them the festive coloration and sprawl of a botanical wonderland. Sometimes he adds a layer of beads to accentuate the party atmosphere, but more often the additions are mock-sloppy—drips, gunks, and curds of almost fluorescent acrylic, suggesting decay, rot, and destruction. That these marks seem to imply a kind of physical illness is clearest in works such as Love Boom, 1988, in which a very phallic purple-and-white spire deflates against a background of suspiciously spermy-looking blue clouds, or in the somewhat similar Tócame (Touch me, 1989) with its blood-red snake-form and surrounding pattern of what appear to be white blood cells, each as crusty as a dried spill, the whole as decorative as antique wallpaper.

Two paintings stand out. Entonces (Then) and Still Life With Flavor (both works 1989), are less literal in their evocations, while obviously having origins in the same pool of organisms. The former work, in particular, is a striking example of the power of abstract painting to translate and pin down hallucinatory fodder. In it, a brown and yellow vertical form seems to be dangling before a silky, rumpled blue-gray field. The paint is thick and heavy, but the image is so inspecific as to seem the result of a retinal misfire. It’s no surprise that Marquez is partly influenced by psychedelic graphics of the ’60s. His work expresses a similarly idealistic belief in art’s ability to link the naked eye and the burdened psyche, with the canvas functioning as their common ground. Still Life With Flavor is even a bit like a drug-induced vision. Three huge acrylic blotches, two yellow and one orange, are partially obscured by four translucent black blotches, into which Marquez has painted spiderwebby details. The image looks as though it ought to disperse under scrutiny, but the artist’s exuberantly affectionate technique won’t let it.

A group of smaller pastel works on paper predate most of the paintings and seem like studies. Less interesting on the whole, though prettier, they are just as defiant in their quirkiness. That Marquez would like to make a virtue of a limited vocabulary is obvious. Since his enthusiasm is tenable, and his ambitions rather mighty, claustrophobia is not a problem. The only trouble is in the area of scale. I’m not totally convinced by these works’ grandiosity. Having seen and admired earlier, more petite paintings by Marquez, I wonder if enlargement hasn’t sapped his art of some of its vibrancy. These new pieces are almost pastoral in relation to their blindingly bright predecessors. They may be handsome and savvy in their transportation of exterior and interior realities, but they no longer offer the unnerving impression of looking into a fresh wound.

Dennis Cooper