New York

Jorge Castillo/Francisco Leiro

Marlborough | Chelsea

The absurdity of fantasy is the only answer to the absurdity of appropriation. Where the latter suggests the bankruptcy of creativity, masked by irony, the former suggests the irrepressibility of the irrational. This does not guarantee creative originality, however, for, as the art of the insane suggests, the irrational can become as stereotypical as the ironical. What is important about the painting of Jorge Castillo and the sculpture of Francisco Leiro is that both suggest that there is still artistic hope in fantasy—perhaps more creative possibilities—than in appropriation. As with all artists today, their work seems bound by past art, but they make a fresh poetry of these memories, that is, they generate an affect so intense that it seems to be experienced for the first time.

Castillo’s bizarre, ghostlike still lifes often feature petrified fruit and abstract art objects, typically in gloomy Spanish brown and gray. While his works are an amalgam of Spanish realism, Surrealist incoherence, and flat Modernist autonomous form in shallow space—not without affinities to Joan Miró’s early mix of realism and abstraction—they convey a sense of the bitter dregs of memory. This is true even of his portraits, in which everything seems frozen with the terror of imminent death. In the drawings, the melancholy is alleviated by a witty eroticism, which has its own poetic validity.

Leiro works in wood that is sometimes crudely carved, but mostly smooth; some- times bare, but mostly painted. He sets up relatively stark yet humorous color and shape contrasts, invariably with the figure as a starting and ending point. As in Castillo’s work, there is a general sense of the aborted but inescapable organic. The works are sardonically sensual and often show figures ironically performing mundane tasks or heterosexual couples locked in dubious mutuality. Distorted body fragments are wittily combined, as if to mock the body from which they are derived—to make a joke of its allure. The general mood is one of relentlessly ironical sensuality, as though sensuality were being flushed into the open to be eliminated wherever it occurred, whether in surface or shape, human or nonhuman objects. Leiro is implicitly violent, just as Castillo is explicitly depressive. The effect of the absurd occurs when we become convinced that the art has mediated, against all odds, a primary affect in all its depth and inescapability. It is as though we have been trapped in a corner of feeling from which we cannot escape and have resigned ourselves to this fate. It is precisely this undertow of expressive primacy that animates the best Spanish art.

Donald Kuspit