Nuno de Campos

Clifford Smith Gallery

In his second solo show, “Lap and Beyond,” New York-based Portuguese artist Nuno de Campos continued to explore the triadic power relations among himself, his art, and the public through his favorite vehicle, the female midsection. Along with two tempera-on-panel postscripts to last year’s “Lap” series. The artist exhibited nine intricate works on paper in graphite, charcoal, and chalk The Oedipal dimension implied in the earlier work—loosely based on the Virgin in Michelangelo’s Pietà—is made explicit in these three series of photo-based drawings, installed as triptychs. Setting aside the notion of a lap as the place where a child is nurtured, de Campos puts symbolically loaded objects in his model’s expressive, Düreresque hands: a knife, a jar of Vicks VapoRub, an old record cover. These objects deliberately reference psychoanalytical models of the transitional object, which represents a child’s development into an entity separate from the mother.

Issues of empowerment, comfort, and memory take center stage in these drawings, which are characterized by a great variety of texture and tonality and framed in rectangles drawn on the paper. The “Knife” images, 2000, are the simplest and most direct: A standing woman of a certain age, wearing a swirling paisley-and-floral vintage dress, displays her gold wedding band while handling a miniature Swiss Army Knife. The masculine symbol is neutered here by its tiny size (smaller than the model’s thumb) and toylike quality, as well, as by its position in idle, female hands.

De Campos blends traditional academic style and technique with Pop iconography in the sexually charged “Rub” drawings, 2001. Wishing to add a formal variable other than value, intensity, and line, the artist tinted the paper pinkish red with a watercolor wash—a technique popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—and highlighted the erect model’s veiny hands and curving dress with white chalk Here her instrument of power is a small jar of Vicks VapoRub that she seems to be opening, conjuring childhood memories of soothing comfort. In each of the three drawings in this series the scene is shown from a different focal point, betraying a formal dependence on the camera’s eye.

De Campos teeters between Oedipal longing and real romance in the most recent series, “Single,” 2001. Drawn on paper tinted turquoise, these complex and moody works appear as hybrids of drawing and painting, moving farther than the other series from their photographic sources. The melancholy blue tone is equated with the mood of dark, obsessional love in Belgian crooner Jacques Brel’s single “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (Don’t leave me), the record the seated model contemplates. In the charcoal-and-chalk Single #4, the woman, wearing a collared frock in a wilting-flower pattern, hides her face with the record cover, which features a portrait of Brel singing his love song. The record, clasped in her deftly shaded right hand, suggests a mirror; the series implies a challenge to the artist to measure up to this rather tortured European pop idol. Though difficult to read as a general narrative, this image resonates particularly well with de Campos’s struggles with domination and dependency as he tries to make his mark in the art world.

Francine Koslow Miller