"When I found Caravaggio, I thought, this is a guy who paints like me," said Jorge Santos during a lecture before the opening last Friday night at Carmel's Evan Lurie Gallery that featured not only his work, but also the work of sculptor Stephen Shaheen and Spanish painter Arnau Alemany.
Santos, despite his tongue being firmly in cheek, was half right. His self-taught technique rivals the 17th century Italian master's but the thematic tone of his work couldn't be more dissimilar. No matter how dark Caravaggio's work seems, in terms of palette and subject matter, the redemptive light of Christian faith always frames the canvas. Not so with Santos. There is, however, a sense of humor at work that leavens his intense subject matter. In the oil on canvas "Untitled (Building)," you see men dragging the Chrysler Building on its side, by cables, along a mesa's edge. This setting, in fact, is the view outside Santos' New Mexico studio. You might find it funny - or disconcerting - how he places an architectural icon on its side, in the desert.
Usually, though, Santos' settings are more intimate. In "River's Edge" (oil and acrylic on canvas), an attractive teenage girl wearing a tank top and a swim cap, with an inner tube around her waist, floats in a shaded eddy. She's almost life-size, photo-real. While raising her arms as if to embrace you she looks at you with a facial expression that might reflect bemusement or fear depending on your intentions towards her.
In "Train Spotters," another young woman lies on a table next to a seated William S. Burroughs in his trademark fedora. Behind them sits a steam locomotive as a storm brews on the horizon. You may sense pessimism in Santos' work about the future of humanity akin to that in Burroughs' cut-up novels. A sense, perhaps, that the train has already left the station.
Speaking of trains, Alemany's oil on canvas "Last Station" displays a sensibility analogous to Santos'. Here, rusted train cars sit against a backdrop composed of two dense blocks of 19th century European-style apartment buildings that stand desolate in the middle of an empty plain.
Shaheen (who lectured with Santos before the opening) rounds out this show with stone sculptures that radiate angst and, less often, humor. In "Float," as a pregnant woman lies half-submerged under a thin marble plane - as if in water - you can see the possibilities of marble carving being pushed to the limit.
With this show, the Lurie Gallery cements its place as an essential component of the greater Indy arts scene. For information, call 317-844-8400 or go to www.evanluriegallery.com. The gallery is located at 30 W. Main St. in Carmel. The show hangs through May 20.