Rob Birza

Galerie Fons Welters

Around 1990, some powerful local players anointed Rob Birza as The Man Who Will Save Dutch Painting. Overwhelming expectations were thereby heaped on an uneven young painter often given to a facile virtuosity, heavy-handed irony, and an all too hasty form of stylistic eclecticism. However, in recent years Birza has sometimes appeared more focused and convincing——notably, in “Cosy Monsters from Inner Space,” a series of comic strip–style horror paintings and drawings from 1998. The equally successful new series “One Is Free,” 2001–2003, the subject of his latest show (which took the same name), consists of bizarre paintings based on photographs depicting scenes from the Islamic world, often gatherings of bearded men; these are surrounded by frames covered with ornamental textiles.

Some of the paintings show frenzied masses: Shoe-Holders, 2001, for instance, in which the men holding

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