Richard Smolinskis multi-faceted self-portraits tackle complex issues with humour.
Runs until March 2
The New Gallery
With some resemblance to political cartoons, and incorporating contemporary, identifiable symbols and a few adept references to art and literary history, the self-portraits in Richard Smolinskis EVERYMANnerism trace what the artist calls a ghost-written biography of gender.
Loose and gestural, EVERYMANerism is a series of 17 black and white scenes crowded with figures, information and symbols. Smolinski himself appears in each one as the main subject, but unlike traditional self-portraits, his figure is only a tool used to illustrate many different stories.
Entitled Tabula Rasa, the first painting in the show depicts the artist suckling an adult-sized soother, the letter L emblazoned in the middle of his forehead but its doubtful that the story begins here,with the pure, blank slate implied by the title of this piece.
Embodying a range of male stereotypes, the artist's image is constantly transformed, from the hapless baby of the first piece to a Napoleon-like figure leading a battalion of tin-can soldiers in another. Smolinski negotiates a maze of contradictory expectations in one scene he sits with a baby on each knee and a pair of angel wings on his shoulders, in the next he throws a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse. One piece, The Subject in Finity features Smolinski's face with the sites labelled for cosmetic procedures a hair weave, Botox to erase laugh lines, and more.
The artist often appears in a black beret and a black-and-white striped shirt. The outfit is reminiscent of a prison uniform, but is also the stereotypical artist's garb. There are many small but telling details and it takes time and attention to appreciate them. In one corner of a painting, a wine bottle with legs empties itself into the unconscious artist's mouth.
In his artist's statement, Smolinski explains that "Everyman" is a term referring to a common character in medieval Christian morality plays, a person who encompassed all human faults and shortcomings. This character's story served as an example, a way to teach a moral lesson to the audience. Every soul can be saved, and everyone is capable of redemption.
In this work, though, Everyman's instructional purpose isn't clear. He struggles throughout the story, but does not end up improved or reformed. Smolinski takes a stab at the Hollywood ending with the last painting in the series. The artist is wearing a mischievous grin as well as a priest's collar, his hands clasped and a halo floating above his head. Letters with their own legs run across the top of the paper spelling the word "Saint" the word "Dick" also appears, but more faint, scratched into the paint below.
Rich in detail and ideas, Richard Smolinski's EVERYMANnerism has depth and humour. It is satirical in places, but without mocking the confusing issues involved in defining the contemporary male identity. Honest and complex, but not didactic, it is an evocative narrative.