Robert Cenedella, Social Commentary, Hansen Galleries, New York (1979)



 Robert Cenedella's witty, colorful paintings, iconoclastic attacks on the establishment, are exhibited (in unintended irony?) in the heart of the financial district at the Hansen Galleries, 17 South William Street.


 More and more there are signs that painting, like a wounded animal, debilitated by removal from life into sterile, abstract-conceptual confines of a tiny, airless room, is slowly moving out into the open again, convalescing in the care of artists who see, feel and think about more profound things than can be encompassed by a strip of masking tape, airbrush, photograph or neo-dadaist manipulation of whatever assortment of meaningless objects and materials.


 Robert Cenedella is the fella who takes the invalid art out of doors, and rather than lungfulls of fresh air, gives it a dose of air pollution and corporate skullduggery. Cenedella creates antic paintings of amazing energy and cohesive movement, subtly rich color and perceptive drawing, sensational intricacies of mayhem, violence, lust and greed.


 In "May Day," relatively large at approximately four by five feet, a celebration of the rites of spring becomes the chaos of a mass of seething humanity (not seething mass of humanity)...seething with anger and outrage at the defilement of the earth in the hands of ignorant, venal, corporate robber barons. The crowd is held back by storm troopers bearing corporate insignia of the major oil companies on their helmets, while a winding file of tanks labeled Shell, IBM, Coke, Mobil, Chase, Getty and Pepsi do their damnedest to see that the status quo will be maintained even amidst the disruption of a world gone mad, or they will know the reason why.


 Skirmishes, smog, conflagrations and golden mini-A-bomb bursts rend the thruway-clotted land which fades, in all its marvelous Cenedellian intricacy and command of perspective, to the distant horizon where the flaming Turneresque sky, with the exception of a central area of pale turquoise (is that the way out of the madness, Cenedella?), is ripped by fire and shafts of light from explosions, riven by acids and polluted mists, shrouded by smoke. As in the movie, "Network," the people (and nature) cry, "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore."


 This is pictorial revolution, the images are of greed and destruction, pollution and retribution, yet the paintings are filled with great beauty. Aesthetic, artistic structures have been created that are lovely in color, expressive and vital in composition and conception. In short, a convincing vision of the world has been built up in great detail by an artist in complete control of his means. Like Bosch or Breughel, hell is served up on a very beautiful platter.


 In "Now Sex," under a colorful red, orange, yellow and green marquee with a voluptuous female torso and the fragments of words "raw adults" and "now sex," hordes fill the streets seemingly unable to contain themselves until they enter the lust on the sidewalk, masturbation on main street, and an easy-going proposition-cum-feel while leaning comfortably against the side of a taxi.


 Other great works are "West Way": in the midst of a general melee, a banner with the painfully smiling face of Mayor Ed Koch, threatens to go up in flames of a burning patrol car; "Day Break" and "Entrance to the Tunnel": solidly painted, convincing trucks and factory chimneys belch marvelous clumps of smoke which rise to the apotheosis of the fiery sky. And, from out of the complexity of trucks and thruways rises the crumbling remains of the Tower of Babel with a decaying sign at its top that proclaims ..."Alpo".


 Surprisingly, these dynamic revelations of the chaos of modern life are painted in oil with small sable brushes and blenders in a style of feathery brushwork reminiscent of tempera paintings of past ages. The artist paints from memory and imagination with an accuracy and truth of perception that will have you seeing "Cenedellas" everywhere you turn in New York.


 Robert Cenedella says, "Paintings are a means of communication. For twenty years this has been an old-fashioned point of view. But I sense that things are changing."




Copyright by Don Gray


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