Eric Finzi: Slipping into the Liquid World of Lewis Carroll

readme.jpgWalking into the Aidan Savoy Gallery, one immediately notices the liquid quality of Eric Finzi's work: it shines, it glows, it flows. This impression is a product of both the medium -- epoxy resin chemically altered and blow-torched -- and the images. The show, entitled "Down the Rabbit Hole," is an homage of sorts to Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, as well as a photographer, mathematician, Anglican clergyman, and logician.

The 18 works in this show vary in size and style, with the larger paintings containing representational images and even portraits, while the smaller tend to abstraction. What unites them is Finzi's method, described by him as follows: "I basically work using the different polymerization times of the resin, depending upon the temperature of the resin, and waiting a certain amount of time before I put the paint in, before I pour it, which is why it has multiple layers."

At first sight these paintingss looked so smooth and shiny to me; they appeared almost like highly glazed ceramics. But upon further viewing, I could see that something more original was at work. Hearing that Finzi is a dermatologist as well an artist (with a specialty in "minimally invasive surgery," i.e. the uses of Botox and liposuction among other cosmetic techniques) may help the viewer to comprehend the complexity of both his artistic process and his fascination with transformations of the type that regularly occur in Alice in Wonderland.

The first work is entitled "Drink Me," the command that Alice receives once she has tumbled down the rabbit hole at the beginning of her hallucinatory experiences. We see Alice, in rich yellows and rusts, looking at her image in a mirror as she reaches out innocently for the bottle. She gives herself over to an altered reality much like the artist Finzi does when he dons his bio-hazard suit and welder's mask to create a work of art. The good doctor also has a Ph.D. in bio-chemistry, and like Dr. Frankenstein (who we know was not the monster), Dr. Finzi combines science and art, as his website says, to "store a person's self-esteem" at his Chevy Chase Cosmetic Center.

But all this wanders from the exhibition art, and the art is indeed very good -- dramatic, challenging, even sometimes "dreamy creepy," a remark overheard in the gallery. The piece that provoked this insight, entitled "Flora, Irene and Mary at Elm Lodge," depicts three young female creatures who haven't quite emerged into a fully human state -- all in grays and eggshell, except for a touch or two of black.

In "What Will Become of Me," Alice is squished uncomfortably into a very tight space, with a tiny table and chairs. She is spread across the picture plane in a blue dress, looking less child-like than in other works. In fact she looks rather like a voluptuous blonde, her torso provocatively squeezed into the diminutive room. (Checking out a couple of other review websites, I was disappointed to find that several simply quoted at length from the official press release, not using quotation marks. Interesting. Sort of like George Bush making up U.S. foreign policy. The trick is not to think at all, just take commands from so-called knowledgeable sources.)

The Finzi press release is informative: "At the atmospheric intersection of art and science lies the work of Eric Finzi. His dreamy, narcotized resin-based paintings [are] on wood, aluminum and copper. . . . His artistic role is not unlike the role of amber trapping a fugitive insect (in Finzi's case, paint) in its viscous fluid and then morphing it into both object and beguiling memory." In their deep rich colors, twisted shapes, and psychological suggestiveness, these paintings could recall the work of Edvard Munch.

What I want to say about this exhibit is that Finzi's work is provocative, and on several levels: first, the images themselves capture figures deeply self-involved (looking down, or away, or into a mirror, or in the case of a Lewis Carroll portrait, he looks out, but not as if he sees his viewers, more as if he has been caught daydreaming, pondering some inner world as he holds his camera in his hand); second, the idea that this artist both injects patients with Botox (in one area of his life) and resin works with paint (in his other major role) is intriguing, especially when one notes that Dr. Finzi goes on television talk shows to declare that Botox may be a cure for depression based on a ten-person experiment he conducted; and third, what does it mean to go "Down the Rabbit Hole"? Is such a journey a regression? And, if so, to where? Some of Finzi's figures are so buried in the medium as to appear more fetal than human. Or is it a magic journey into the self? Or into a dream world? In "Read Me" (image above), Alice is down the hole, but Finzi has painted the hole to look like an operating theatre so Alice becomes a stand-in for the surgeon-artist at work.

Of course artists tend to resent having their lives used as a way to interpret their art, and I would imagine Finzi might feel this way. But for me, the syringe in his hand in both his vocations cannot be ignored. Just as the post-Victorians have had a hard time ignoring the implications of Lewis Carroll's portraits of little undressed girls provocatively posed.

I recommend this exhibit. Serious art should be slightly mysterious, and Finzi's is both beautiful and unsettling. - Victoria Sullivan

"Down the Rabbit Hole" at Aidan Savoy Gallery, 175 Stanton Street, New York City, June 15 to July 8, 2006 victoria.jpg

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

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