Washington, DC

Carlos Alfonzo

Ramon Osuna Gallery

Though sculpture is new to Cuban artist Carlos Alfonzo, the constructed steel pieces he exhibited along with his more familiar paintings not only employ the same cubist vocabulary he has been exploring for the better part of a decade; they exhibit a similar emotional intensity.

Clement Greenberg identified Cubism with “the empiricists’ faith in the supreme reality of concrete experience.” Though Alfonzo does not reject the importance of “concrete experience,” titles such as Fear, Hope, and Cry (all works 1989), suggest that emotional states including love, anxiety, and terror, are an integral part of his artistic reality. Employing primitivistic motifs and expressionistic drawing, Alfonzo infuses his structures with an emotional intensity reminiscent of Wifredo Lam’s “jungle cubism.” Indebted to Surrealist automatism, Alfonzo’s motifs have clear psychological connections to the unconscious mind. In the acrylic painting Cry for example, psychologically disturbing biomorphic shapes suggesting pierced and twisted viscera, are layered in a transparent web.

Shot through with color and light, Cry differs subtly from much of Alfonzo’s earlier work. Forms are larger and less densely packed, drawing is firmer, and light is less atmospheric. Increasingly done in white against a darker ground, light tends to collect on the surface rather than emanate from within, giving the new works greater material presence without undercutting their emotional impact. In a large oil entitled God in the Studio, an “allover” armature of coarse shapes outlined in white is set against a darker blue-green field, suggesting a truncated body with several concentric “halos” around its head. This central figure is surrounded by several disproportionately sized elements, including heads, eyes, and snail shapes. Shared contours increase the visual and psychological tension in these works by causing a continual shifting of figure-ground relationships.

Considering the importance of drawing and color in Alfonzo’s paintings, his black painted sculptures are surprisingly effective. These two-dimensional sheet steel silhouettes arranged on pedestals are derived from shapes in his paintings. In Memento Mori several forms pierced by daggers are layered together to create an ominous still life. Gestural drawing is simulated in these sculptures by ragged edges and linear details that have been cut through them with a torch. While these sculptures are not as complex as his paintings, they are intended to convey the same emotional intensity. By the interjection of the psychological dimension into otherwise static, “concrete” cubist structures, Alfonzo creates a dialogue between the two. This exchange becomes a way of showing not only the role emotions play in shaping perceptions of “concrete experience,” but also the subjective nature of reality itself.

Howard Risatti