Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life is a balancing act (Alexis Lago at Couturier Gallery)

Serene and surrealistic, Alexis Lago’s watercolors (and a few oil paintings) call to mind scenes from storybooks or fables, often casting man and nature at odds or in tandem. His exhibition, Possible Moves, is now on view at Couturier Gallery. Expect to be welcomed by a beaming, Klimt-esque oil painting from across the room, this flanked by a whimsical and equally contemplative ensemble of works.

Lago is a Cuban native whose gentle yet crisp strokes lend his work a distinct quality; the same goes for his sensitive treatment of marine animals, a relic of his background in biochemistry. In Penitente (Penitence), a stream of fish fall headlong from the sky like meteors, straight towards a patch of earth in which a man is buried. The man is Lago himself, his head protruding just above the surface, awaiting the inevitable. The painting’s verticality is not isolated; much of Lago’s work assumes this format, highlighting binaries like sky and earth, groundedness and flight. In Concilio de abajo y arriba (Council of Above and Below), a crane extends its neck from out of a sallow sky, looking down (perhaps) on a scene of clashing ships below. It strikes a contrast between the madness of man and the serenity of beasts. Maybe being a polar bear, a solitary creature, isn’t so bad after all.

Lago’s oil paintings are just as vivid. That Klimt-esque painting, Move of the Eraser Fish, is strikingly beautiful. Three men bear the weight of a monstrous fish laden with color, almost like a patchwork quilt. The heavy lifters are in motion, floating through a golden, ethereal space. It is a scene of struggle amidst celebration. The piece calls to mind a painting by the early twentieth-century artist Suzanne Valadon, Le Lancement du Filet (Casting of the Nets)—an imagined prequel to Move of the Eraser Fish.

Indeed Lago leaves much room for imagining. His own creativity encourages it, be it a centaur-portrait or a tree of human portraits in the form of what? acorns? They are whatever you want them to be.

Arbol de la ida y vuelta (Round Trip Tree), 2012
Watercolor on paper

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