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A couple of paintings by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech currently grace the walls of The Project, 427 W. 126th St., NYC (in a group show, through February 2). This is intelligent almost-abstraction with a playful streak; imagine some offbeat combination of William Baziotes and John Wesley, rendered with a flat acrylic surface recalling Peter Halley's early, quirky paintings and you're sort in the neighborhood. Even though these images are baroque compared to Garcia-Fenech's earliest work, which looked like spare, airport pictograms, the key here is still economy: getting the most out of a few recurring elements.

The paintings in the current series all begin with a pour, or splash, which is then outlined with acrylic so it becomes a depiction of a splash. Element No. 2 is an eccentric, hand drawn shape or pattern engaged in some kind of conversation, or dance, with the splash: in Belt (right), it's a white shape that intertwines with a black splatter like a copulating doppelganger-skeleton. Element No. 3 is the John Wesley touch, some kind of doofus-y, twee cartoon thing that gently mocks, or threatens to undo, whatever seriousness the painting has managed to build up. In Belt it's--d'oh--a belt, that perversely joins the dryhumping bone-blobs in a consensual bondage fantasy. Other paintings feature evergreen trees, tiny flames, bugs, crowns, spindly trees: whatever it takes to make an already awry composition that much wryer. Clicking on the thumbnails on the artist's website is highly recommended, because as good as a couple of images are, seeing a lot of them has a cumulative effect towards appreciating how smart this work is. The titles--Backslider, Jane from Occupied Europe, Prone To, Prone Again--mirror the tone of skewed archness.

- tom moody 1-17-2003 6:10 pm [link]