Brave, burgeoning life pokes up everywhere amid the tentative perceptual delights of late April. Why not in Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Gallery's downtown space, perched across from the east end of Cleveland's hyacinth-tinted Veteran's Memorial Bridge?
We left with our hearts tired is the second exhibit of Miami-based Craig Kucia's brilliantly colored, Easter-basket-like paintings at Shaheen to coincide with northern Ohio's overdue spring season. Like the current show, the selection of Kucia's work displayed in 2004 was packed with jewel-like incidents of paint and narrative, scattered in cat's cradles of criss-crossing natural forms rendered in hyper-real color and texture. Full of birds and butterflies, 3D tree branches, edible-looking oversized leaves and petals, bunnies, bees and bugs, Kucia's oil-on-canvas works — then and now — have a tendency to devolve into smaller and smaller paint globs and specks, headed toward their own "zero" of gesture and incident. The resulting aesthetic satiation provided by partially pre-digested storylines and dessert-like passages of thick color leaves the eye's hunger for meaning strangely, deliberately unsatisfied; this truthfulness is one source of their strength.
Kucia, who graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1999 and later attended London's Chelsea School of Art, is an ambitious visual poet, constructing self-contradictory painted images that are all about material, even as they plunge into trompe l'oeil depictions of owls, squirrels, light bulbs, pushpins and patches of masking tape that look like Kucia actually stuck or pasted something to the canvas. In fact, looking is not enough: A Kucia painting whispers to the mind, tempting viewers to plunge into the smooth or crusty mud of process, looking for a delicate spine of detail that ultimately is no more than a shadow of human neurological structure. We try to find a sense of ourselves, hidden like Waldo in the gaps between art's truths and lies. Kucia paints mazes where such a search for identity can take place.
If there is a masterpiece among the six works on view at Shaheen, it would be "all I could remember was the remnants of our inconsistently inconsistent constellation" (2009), which, at 84 by 108 inches, is the largest and perhaps the most definitive of Kucia's efforts to date. It's sort of a view through the leaves and branches of a wood, set in mid-air and defined by no single set of real-world parameters. Light bulbs hang at the end of carefully rendered hanging cords; tennis shoes and striped socks float forward; unfocussed depths of foliage fade back past hornet's nests — and where are we? Lost, it seems, in a realm of line, color and sensuous apperception, caught among fragments of stories, some of which probably hurt, wondering if they fit anywhere in our lives, in any version of our lives.