Big Eyes And Babies: The West Coast Comes East

maldonadoTwo young artists from the west, Brandon Maldonado of New Mexico (born 1980) and Sarah Sohn of Los Angeles (born 1984), have landed at the Aidan Savoy Gallery on Stanton Street. I mention their youth because it is so much a part of how one takes them in—the fact that they are still in a formative phase. Maldonado’s work dominates the space, in part because his color palette is so much brighter and more intense than that of Sohn. His works—with their hot colors and bold, even surreal images—catch the eye and demand attention. Sohn’s work is paler, closer to monochromatic, and more aloof in its imagery.

At twenty-six, Maldonado is painting under a number of influences: Mexican Day of the Dead imagery; Spanish colonial patinas and dark backgrounds; Daliesque distortions; and even Margaret Keane (with the preternaturally large, luminous eyes of many of Maldonado’s figures). What impresses is his technical bravura. The guy can paint. He only started using oil paint in 2004, but he has already mastered tones and textures. Maldonado’s youth and energy bring power to the painted panel, but also a certain overly commercial or kitschy love of the bizarre. Hasn’t every slightly strange high school boy with a gift for drawing been fascinated by the very subjects he claims inspire him: “flowers, swans, sculls, and devils”? In fact isn’t tattoo art almost defined by such images?

Maldonado’s narratives too suggest a post-adolescent obsession with pain and angst. In the painting “Mommy Where’s Poppy?” a female in a pink dress stands with her wide-eyed child dressed as a clown, while a little way off lurks an empty suit and top hat –the man with no head, no presence. It is a lonely universe.

Still, one can’t help but be taken with the sheer vigor of several of his images, particularly in “Portrait of a Girl That’s Not You” (pictured), where the female figure – part plant, part human – holds her ground and stares out of the canvas like a Renaissance lady, demure and mysterious against a swirling background of blues and greens. When Maldonado’s imagery (which can be dangerously sentimental in a pop art manner) catches up to his boldness and technique, he could be a formidable artist.

Sohn also is talented, but in a more controlled and repetitive fashion. Her medium is acrylic on wood. The recurring image is of identical female heads and torsos, along with fetal or infantile creatures, amidst curling vegetation. The design element reminds one of Asian art: the flatness, the detail, the eye for subtle lines and shapes.

Most of Sohn’s works have multiple figures squeezed into them, and one is even called “Baby Patch,” as if one could grow babies like vegetables with their little heads inside sperm shapes like flowers in a garden. Sometimes this plethora of baby heads suggests fecundity; other times it reminds the viewer of Woody Allen’s film Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, the episode where he plays a sperm (brilliantly costumed as such) among many ready to be fired into the waiting female body.

Humans become another species of plants in Sohn’s cosmos, which is a mutely colored world, mainly beige, brown, and mustard-gold. My favorite work is “Two Cork Dolls,” which somehow brings to mind the imagery of the Victorian fairy tale. Here she has demure, elongated figures with skinny legs, and a touch of red in their gowns (a rare and welcome use of that color in her work).

The show is certainly worth a drop in. Both of these young painters studied art in Los Angeles and they bring a breath of the west coast vision to New York City. - Victoria Sullivan

Aidan Savoy Gallery
175 Stanton Street
New York City
January 11th - Feb. 3, 2007

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Ms. Sullivan is a poet and playwright who lives in Manhattan and has a little cabin outside of Woodstock, NY. When not brooding, she is generally traveling, writing, or staring at the trees. She also loves to laugh.

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