New York

Oscar de Las Flores, Gloriae Americanae (American Glory), 2012, pen and ink on kozo paper, 15 x 20".

Oscar de Las Flores, Gloriae Americanae (American Glory), 2012, pen and ink on kozo paper, 15 x 20".

Oscar de Las Flores

Mulherin + Pollard

Oscar de Las Flores, Gloriae Americanae (American Glory), 2012, pen and ink on kozo paper, 15 x 20".

In 1989, historian John McClelland described Edward Gibbon’s cool disdain for mobs. Gibbon, wrote McClelland, felt crowds should be regarded with “enlightened patrician contempt.” Oscar de Las Flores does not precisely share this scorn—on the evidence of the ink-on-paper drawings that were on view here, he views crowds with something more like enraged disgust.

Violent mobs fill de Las Flores’s drawings, as if combating horror vacui. Gloriae Americanae (American Glory), 2012, for example, is a mess of ravaged and raving figures. It, like all of de Las Flores’s drawings (most of those shown here were fifteen by twenty inches), is densely narrative, to the extent that we are forced to struggle to decipher what exactly is going on. Thankfully, de Las Flores provides us with written commentary for each work, which helps us decode its meaning. Without that writing, we wouldn’t know, for example, that the grotesquely distorted central figure is Hugh Hefner, here depicted as a drug-crazed wretch.

These commentaries lay out the artist’s political and social concerns. (Helpful though the texts are, sometimes this didacticism overburdens, as the works are convincingly meaningful in themselves.) We learn, for instance, that Petroleum Romance, 2012, portrays conflict in the Middle East, and that Sudacas, Wetbacks and Balseroes, 2013, recalls the tragic misery of immigration. In the latter, “the undesired arrival” of these migrants “in the heart of the good life” causes a “violent panic attack” in “the elite.” However consumed the artist is by his social and political conscience, his lurid images convey, above all, the barbarism of human relations. There is clearly a religious dimension, sometimes ironic, always insistent, to de Las Flores’s work. See, for example, the perverse Infallibility of the Sacred, 2012, in which God is surrounded by his “carnal creation,” and the allusion to the “dark night of the soul” in The Darkest Night, Departure, 2013. In the diptych Self-Portrait Descending into the Inferno, 2013, the artist sees himself as Christ, finding himself “castigated and tormented by art speculators . . . and all sorts of wasted cultural icons,” among other demonic presences.

The influence of Bosch and Bruegel is self-evident, yet de Las Flores’s drawings equally invoke modes of populist figuration ranging from comic strips to Diego Rivera’s murals. The fervor de Las Flores brings to his rendering of apocalyptic fantasy is no doubt appropriate for the times—when is it not appropriate? But he counterbalances this passion with his considered, nuanced, self-certain line, a saving aesthetic grace amid these chaotic scenes. Indeed, de Las Flores is a brilliant technician. His skill suggests an integrity that rises above the social disintegration and damaged human beings he depicts; artistic idealism underpins his angry realism.

Donald Kuspit