New York

Ignacio Iturria

Marlborough | Midtown

IGNACIO ITURRIA'S CHARACTERS ARE NOT SO MUCH PAINTED as built out of paint; smeared browns, umber, and drab typically run up against blush and pastel flesh forms in sometimes inches-thick globs. It's as if murky roils of brackish cloud, grime, and earth had congealed in varied textures to form the artist's animals, leaky faucets, airplane-dotted skies, moldering furniture, and figures. These paintings can be enjoyed on many levels: A graceful sophistication underlies their vastly playful surfaces. The near-abstraction of his blotchy characters combined with a quirky symbolism invite a spiritual interpretation while also evoking comic, private associations. Resonant with creation mythology, Iturria's imagery includes as much fun as pathos, as much fecundity as poverty, as much life as decay.

In some works, brief narratives are presented in comic strip–like compositions, as in Noche Feliz (Happy Night), 1997, which sweetly depicts six episodes from an amorous and artistically fruitful evening. A number of formal elements are repeated from scene to scene, such as the linear shape of the couple's simple bedframe. The male figure in this picture story—a painter—reproduces this shape (albeit upside down) on his own canvas in the third vignette. Here Iturria references himself; the distinct possibility that he is also invoking the Delphic E (a cabalist symbol of mother) with the upside-down bedframe form is only somewhat beside the point. A suggestion lingers that the oracular is only interesting or even possible in light of that elusive quality, human happiness.

Geometry is also casually apparent in most of the paintings. In the nocturne Siete Trenes (Seven Trains), 1997, for example, the compartments into which modern life distributes us are skewed with a childlike sense of proportion, prone to the fluctuations of chance and emotion. For Iturria, perspective and proximity often are not to be trusted so much as seen through, penetrated as habits of perception, or simply reconnoitered. The lower portion of Altar Casero (Homemade Altar), 1997, renders a desk in the illusionistic dimensionality achieved in many of these works; the images that compose the gridded background imply multiple depths and indicate a variety of personal associations.

Iturria's use of geometry generally seems friendly and transforming, like an attempt to construct a portal through which his characters might emerge from their fantastical world into ours. That many of the figures in the paintings also appeared in the show as cardboard and papier-mâché sculptures—cabinets whose doors and drawers open; a cluster of ghostly, thin-necked spirits emanating from elongated bottles—supports this idea. Or, conversely, the grid invites you to step with deceptive surety as far as you like into the dank, fertile murk of the paintings, into their half-dreamscape with its slurred hues of mud, sky, and blood, into the menagerie of stark-shadowed rooms, with someone like the character in 100 Años (100 Years), 2000, holding your exploding head on a string.

Tom Breidenbach