by Ray Zone
(Couturier Gallery,West Hollywood) There is an unmistakable air of mystery to the collage paintings of Michael Madzo. This enigmatic ambiance suggests the atmosphere of Marc Chagall and the visual construction of Picasso. But Madzo's work is original and unique in terms of both method and substance.
Madzo takes art history as his literal material and starting point, cutting up reproductions of classic paintings and reassembling or "suturing" their visual elements back together in faintly disturbing and dreamlike configurations which he then paints over with deft rnatching of color values and textures. A blatant and poetic device of the artist is to stitch with twine the disparate patches of the original cutout sections. This Frankensteinian touch reinforces both the visual trickery and the meaning behind these images which are at once tantalizing and elusive. There is also something monstrous about this stitchery. It is a poetic affront to the spectator, an insistence upon an apparently necessary honesty, and an important reference to the "assembled" and man-made nature of this art. These collage paintings are oddly compelling mutations that achieve a kind of graceful beauty by the artist's very refusal to resort to a more cosmetic, and superficial, form of assembly. Madzo exposes all the hideous handiwork in the making of his monsters, and in so doing achieves a kind of poetry as the delicate traceries underlying his constructions emphasize a wistful yearning and vulnerability that invests all his work.
Secret Pleasure is a good example of Madzo's mutative poetry. A naked cyclopean figure sits upright in bed holding a tripartite leaf in a hand covered by a small red target. The head of the figure is disturbingly small and atop it sits a small, green sphere, perhaps an apple. Behind a panel to the left is another lurking figure with a single eye passing by or gazing secretively upon the scene before us. It is very mysterious, and as you gaze upon its odd juncture of composition, the tantalizing air of mystery is unmistakable, both as to the certain identification of the imagery and as to what is transpiring in it's narrative passage.
Don't get me wrong. I love this work. I also love the Frankenstein monster, that nostalgic patchwork of flesh and history. Mutation, in many ways, is more than ever an important theme for artists of our pre-millenial epoch to explore. Madzo's mutations achieve the sublime by prodding and eluding our attempts to identify and understand them. Another similarly disturbing work is Making Waves, which depicts something like a one-footed humanoid tower with a pointed roof in a landscape. A part of a leg and an arm are embedded in this amalgam, but up on a balcony sits a tiny figure almost buried in the outsized scale of the tower. A long arm stretches out and an arbitrary arc traces clouds or the ocean behind. The mystery in this solitary figure is baffling.
Most Chagall-like among the works here is Under the Moon, which depicts a cubist-mutant infant at rest under a deep blue night sky. Two birds hover in the air above. A large orange vessel is nearby. Does it contain the thoughts or dreams of the reclining figure? Or perhaps it contains the meaning of the picture. She Sleeps in Beauty is a companion piece to Under the Moon. An oddly configured adult nude reclines beneath a bright noonday sky amidst a suspiciously anthropomorphic landscape. A single bird with wings made of green Ieaves glides overhead. With these two works Madzo places us within a more familiar and quieter juncture of earth and air, time and space.
With Spacious, Clouds the artist forges new representation from an accumulation of old figuration. Taking the figure of a leg wrapped in a purple fabric as the basic building block of the painting, he masses this single motif up like the reiteration of a single haunting melody into a tumbling symphony of musical clouds. The aerial forms seem at once to be flesh and blood and mere heavenly spray. There is floral umbrage in the unfolding of these forms that achieves an abstract musicality. We are in a new and beautiful space that can exist only on the artist's canvas. And that space is an amphitheatre of metamorphosis, a cauldron of mutation that is equally effective with slight musical grace notes or entire symphonic forms.