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October 17, 2014

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara at N’Namdi

N'Namdi

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara
N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art,
Black Box Gallery

by Jim Welke

 

Elements of Whimsy: Adnan Charara

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Black Box Gallery

thru 25-October-2014

Adnan Charara brings a sly sense of humor to his work. He paints, does collage, and creates sculpture from found objects. Found or not, nearly all of the works in this exhibition possess elements inherently in conflict, while to the eye they maintain aesthetic harmony. Conflict creates dramatic tension, imposes a narrative arc, but in Charara’s work it brings the funny too. In this show, the work projects wry humor. That’s the hook to bring you closer.

Picture a rusty washing machine standing in a yard beside a house. In the background, a sun-dappled meadow sprawls languorously. Beyond, snow-capped peaks press against a drape of cobalt sky. If the house were small and decrepit, your thoughts at the sight of the washing machine go in a specific direction. If the house were a well-maintained, super-sized McMansion your thoughts trend in a different direction.

Paint either of these scenes and satire emerges; a philosophical observation manifests. The painter nails down her point of view not only of the washing machine, but also of the world and its human folly.

If the painter painted either of these scenes without the washing machine, she would express elements of her philosophy, but missing the dramatic tension, or at least expressing much less.

Laughter might be a first impulse on sighting artwork built around rusting refuse. But the thoughtful witness sees more. The laughter subsides and a vague melancholia sets in. Thoughts depart the scene and progress to the larger world and society with all of the contradictions, insults, and disappointments therein.

Adnan Charara

Give Me A Chance I Will Grow
Adnan Charara
Found objects

Charara’s work draws you into his tunnel of love; then before comfort and complacency set in, shoves you back out into that harsher, colder world. But it’s a joyful world, too. Only the joy does not spread as evenly as it could… as it should.

That seems to be the existential contradiction that troubles and impels Charara: the uneven allocation of security and prosperity. To this viewer, his work in the N’Namdi show declares, “This is no meritocracy we inhabit. Men clownish and petty hold the power in this world. Suffer fools at your peril.” And the fools we suffer have no sense of their own foolishness. Charara presents several images of self-satisfied, pompous phonies decorated with the signs and symbols of status; of position gained through felonious duplicity.

Those signs and symbols, burned into our media-saturated brains, set off conditioned responses; even sub-conscious sparks. That’s how advertising works its magic, and it’s how Charara’s images work, as did those of his collage-making predecessors Picasso, Duchamp, Schwitter. Charara’s sculptures telegraph hidden messages too, but a bit more subdued; less freighted.

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

At first glance, the figures in the work at N’Namdi merely seem clownish, fanciful, but as conditioned responses kick in–unless you feel nothing but admiration for those who clothe themselves in status symbols–you soon feel an ineffable sense of unease, sort of like meeting a guy in a fancy bespoke suit, fourteen-karat cuff links, and a ten pound Rolex. He speaks, and malapropisms sneak into every sentence–you realize immediately this is a privileged and insecure charlatan with a potent sense of entitlement and a shriveled sense of humility.

Charara does not parody wealth, he parodies those who will do anything to obtain it and then happily misdirect it; who value lucre above all else and churlishly deny it to others more deserving. Look at louche “Colonial Man” with his monogrammed cigar-like nose; or “Masquerade” with the elegant pocket watch of privilege beside George Washington torn from the dollar bill–the most potent symbol of acquisitiveness on the planet–and those ears from a bisected violin suggestive of patronage and noblesse oblige; or the fat cigars, bottle of Madere Cuvee (reminiscent of Picasso’s bottle of Suze), and dueling pistols in “Standoff” like a scene extracted from a repressed, liquor drenched Victorian sitting room; the diamond-studded, pistol-poised, sartorial splendor of “Velvet Man;” or the ‘Prince of Savoy’ headline in “Open Minded Man.” Open minded indeed. Mais, bien au contraire.

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

My American Gothic
Adnan Charara
Found Objects

Charara by no means appears a one-trick-pony. His talent ranges wide through various media and stylistic forms. All of the paintings described above precisely mimic smaller-scale collage executed with such exacting precision a chill runs down your spine to contemplate it. Those collage stood as muses for the larger paintings, but demand attention on their own. Seen together with the paintings, you witness evolution of one man’s art-making process. Not to mention an ardent expression of devotion to the creative journey. Charara makes pure abstracts too–including painting, sculpture, and collage–more enigmatic compared to the work up in N’Namdi, but no less engaging. His abstract work conveys a joyous infatuation with the charms of earthly existence and all the material temptation those charms elicit. The abstracts percolate atavistic, nebulous color and boiling motion. The small sculptures exhibited in this show animate with the effervescence of Charara’s blessed infatuation; they never succumb to static speechlessness. His work never offers mute testimony, it runs more toward loquacious, but in the best way possible.

“My American Gothic” quotes Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” with a diminutive, three-dimensional, dark-skinned couple. The man grips a dinner fork in place of the pitchfork in the painting. There’s the funny. But the title might play on the term Gothic–as in Southern Gothic. This association, along with the complexion of the figures, leads you to recall that slaves created much of the prosperity in the early days of the United States and laid the foundation for its future. And in these latter days, this nation’s wealth–apportioned with top-heavy avarice–emanates from the toil of corporate wage-slaves no less indentured to their masters (claims to the contrary by the fatuous rich guy flashing his ten-pound Rolex notwithstanding).

Adnan Charara

Masquerade (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara’s work encompasses historical, art historical, and social relevance. His work operates with subtlety, and surely allows for deeper and different interpretation than that given here. But to this writer, he offers the gifts of a jester. And remember the jester speaks truth to power, and shadows with wit insights harboring potential to demolish empires. Watch as prosperous collectors flock to his work for both its aesthetic grace and to demonstrate savoir faire and the impervious armor of affluence. Ain’t life grand?

Get out to see this show, and the rest of the work up at N’Namdi before it comes down on 25-October.

 

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Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Collage Adnan Charara

Collage
Adnan Charara

Adnan Charara

Standoff
Adnan Charara
Acrylic on canvas

Adnan Charara

The Velvet Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Adnan Charara

Colonial Man (detail)
Adnan Charara
acrylic on canvas