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1708's "Monsters & Heroes" explores the dual natures within all of us.

Monstrous Views


Monsters & Heroes: Richmond Symbolist Painting"1708 Gallery's latest exhibition, curated by Christina Newton, features Richmond painters Richard Bledsoe, Andrea Brady, Mark Bryant, Wolfgang Jasper, Dave Moore, Diego Sanchez and Fred Weatherford.

While viewing this show, I was reminded of an ethics course I was taking at the time of the Air Florida crash in the mid-'80s. The professor had been maintaining that there is no fully selfless act in the human repertoire, that every such act springs from some mix of obligation, agenda and repercussion. All of us, however, watched in awe, as that one unforgettable Air Florida passenger repeatedly carried his drowning flight mates to safety until he himself succumbed to the frozen water and the swallowed jet fuel. There, said the optimists in the class. A true and virtuous hero. No, said the professor. A man with his own private demons to pacify. It was then that I understood the relationship of the individual, or hero, to his monsters.

Part of the strength of "Monsters & Heroes" exists in its efforts to expose the viewer to a series of works from each artist. The curatorial suggestion is that we, like the 19th century painter Thomas Cole's little boater, are given a life journey in each series.

Wolfgang Jasper's group of paintings initiates the installation scheme. Jasper's encaustic scenes are tantalizing. Their color attracts like nectar or rescued jewels: gorgeous, rare, transforming. The affliction taking place beneath the color is like the throat of a carnivorous bloom contracting, or the hoard's entrance crumbling. Uncontrollable events happen therein, the protagonist being horrified, mute, doomed in his own landscape of predestination. It is not so much the protagonist that is Jasper's monster, but rather that the province and provisions of his life are: crowding and menacing but also bereft and toothless. In "After the Ball," Jasper's blue, slump-shouldered avatar surrenders, red party hat shifting into a horn or beak in reciprocity with the bird messenger above.

Richard Bledsoe's sensuously layered depictions of central figures with great emphasized hands recall to some degree the ardent, emotional honesty of the social realists. To this, he has merged the diaphanous effect of Southern spiritual painters such as John Biggers. The obvious exception is Bledsoe's "Lust" with its absurd, agressive mouth, which represents this otherwise introspective, expressive but unmonstrous series by being their guerrilla in the midst.)

On the long wall are mixed-media pieces by Dave Moore, upholding the heroic aspect with his Epic poem, loosely based on the story of Jason and Medea. In this tale a minotaur gets it in the guts. The carnage appears as red flowers as it hemorrhages onto the canvas. Moore's Baudelairian approach is restrained and elegant, purity delicately profaned.

Unlike the groupings of other series of works, Diego Sanchez's unfamiliar hybridized life forms are broadcast around the gallery like scattered seed. With frondlike fetal appendages unfurling from mature sexual beings, they resemble vascular crytogams (a botanical group whose name suggests that the means of reproduction is not apparent) and nominate paranoia for monsterhood.

Fred Weatherford's brash, spontaneous assertions of color on a flat background produce a series of characters that one thinks one recognizes, like the grim reaper, who conversely dangles a carrot on behalf of his own one-armed progress, or Don Quixote, who holds his banner and rides among the skeptics and villians that are indistinquishable from his own substance. Perceiving these images in the frenzy of marks is somewhat like making out familiar shapes on a linoleum floor, reassuring for the comfort of believing that order exists in the disinterested chaos.

The back room where Mark Bryant's 14 works on paper are exhibited is quieted by his monochromatic meditations. Offspring of Francis Bacon's elongated and calisthenic forms, his hermaphroditic citizenry inhabit a world that is completely self-contained.

In the Underground Gallery are five final pieces in the show. Like Persephone, Andrea Brady, the only woman artist in the show, has been relegated to the nether regions. While perhaps not the most developed body of work in the exhibit, it's an unfortunate placement, in spite of the theme.

A hero is always in process, while a monster must remain in its realm in order to defend its single position, whether it be treasure or precipice. This show is an excellent reminder to keep moving until you

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