If Armando Mariño’s earlier art looked at the outside world with a critical postcolonial eye, his recent paintings probe visceral states of being tinted by melancholy and framed by a directness that feels intimate. Seen through a frosty lens, the artist’s big paintings in his current show at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel are largely centralized compositions that focus on a solitary figure or object turned away or obstructed from the viewer. The impact of his visual elision opens up the strongest work emotionally, leaving crumbs along the away to invite the viewer inside the work, where he shows off his technical prowess.
“The Young Artist” (2014) uses 19th-century German artist Casper David Friedrich‘s signature rückenfigur device (a person seen from behind, contemplating the view), to mark a sense of presence that is equally striking for its feeling of absence. The shadowy figure pops out of an impossible inner frame that directs our attention to a pinkish-hued winter scene blanketed with a deep sense of longing. Like many of the works here, the scene is specific without revealing an actual sense of place — it is a fairy tale world that at every turn begins “once upon a time.”
His “Crying Girl (2014) is equally enigmatic — veering into the realm of magic realism — as a young female figure cries in the branches of a tree that splays the composition every which way. The background of the painting is sprinkled with glowing orbs of color but the reason for her sobbing is unclear even if it feels easy to read into her life story. The barren tree seems to comfort her, but as the viewer we feel awkward about looking at her in pain.
Space is frequently conflated or telescoped in these paintings, which gives them a timeless quality. In “White Tree” (2014), Mariño places an icing-like white tree again warm reds, deep blacks, and accents of bright digital colors. The forms are rooted beyond the painting’s edge, which flattens the picture and lures us to the surface where fireflies of color and texture reveal a different, more abstractly formulated, composition.
But in a few works, namely “The Bride” (2014), the sense of space is too contorted and the subject feels too distant to create a connection with the viewer. His art is most successful when the tension between figure and ground is strangely unsettled, and his work calcifies when the boundaries are more distinct.
All the paintings in this show depict rural night scenes, which heighten their sense of solitude. In frames of darkness his painterly magic glows. I imagine Mariño himself is the figure in “The Young Artist,” looking away towards the two coniferous trees burdened by the weight of the snow. There is a sobering sense of relaxation in this work as we see the youthful artist, perhaps awestruck or curious, contemplating his place in the world. Unlike Casper David Friedrich, Mariño doesn’t offer glimpses of the sublime, preferring instead to focus on the manmade in these allegories, uncovered in the dark recesses of his studio, where time stands still and spring finally arrives.
Armando Mariño’s New Paintings After a Long Winter continues at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel (532 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until June 27.