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Los Angeles Times

Art; Sober Fantasies Recall Bosch

By Leah Ollman

February 6, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.

In the lower right corner of one of Rigoberto Quintana's absorbing new paintings at the Couturier Gallery, a man with the head of a boar sits in a small wooden boat. White rays project from his eyes, and smoke fumes from his snout. On a cord around his neck hangs a heart that spews blood, soaking the sandy ground on which the boat sits.

Elsewhere in the painting, a woman's arm transmutes into flame. The necklace she wears passes through the nose of a giraffe, who stands above a rattlesnake sectioned neatly into thirds. The snake's rattle is pinched by a purple manta ray-like creature, which has one of its flappy wings wrapped around the elbow of the boar-headed man.

Much, much more transpires in this picture, which measures a modest 16-by-16 inches. Each of the figures and objects in Quintana's sober fantasies connects in some way to something else, which then drips onto yet another thing or sends ribbons of smoke around something else. Little ecologies form, multiply, intersect.

Quintana constructs these intricately woven fictions out of a wealth of sources -- personal memory, religious symbolism and ritual, art history and more. He practices a kind of psychic cartography, an elaborate accounting of all the dark and exotic places to which his mind travels.

In fact, in an earlier body of work not in this show, Quintana painted such scenes directly onto cement casts of his own skull. He's taken a more conventional path with these new paintings, in acrylic on linen, but the work is no less wildly inventive.

Hieronymus Bosch is an obvious model here, especially in the carnival-esque cast of hybrid creatures -- part humans with beaks or spiny wings -- that populate the landscapes. The skewed sense of scale also puts insects on par with elephants. An undercurrent of moralism threads through the work too, but it doesn't take root.

Violence, or at least physical violation, appears regularly, but so do images of harmony, meditation and blessing. Blood and fire might appear destructive at one moment and redemptive the next. If Bosch's shadow falls over the work, so does that of Surrealism, with its mining of dreams and the unconscious, its tone of outrageous honesty.

Quintana, who was born and trained in Cuba and has lived for the last decade in Puerto Rico, keeps his work fairly free of the specifics of time and place. An airplane shows up in one painting and a gun in another, but for the most part, time in these paintings is vast -- epic time -- and space is less defined by geography than shaped by belief and practice, memory and myth. The action transpires on a single plane, top to bottom, side to side, with quieter gaps filled with vaguely Cubist faceting.

Quintana paints in earthen variants of the primaries -- blood red, the blue of the sea, the yellow of sunlight and fire -- and in a style that's dense and descriptive but not fussy. Reality, in this allegorical place as much as in its literal counterpart, is fluid and ever in motion. Launched like a pinball through these engrossing paintings, the eye travels the paths Quintana has set, rebounding from one complex snare to another, finding things familiar, strange, comforting and disarming at every step.

Couturier Gallery, 166 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 933-5557, through Feb. 21. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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