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April 12 - May 8 at the Schomburg Gallery, Santa Monica

by Shirle Gottlieb

When it comes to bold, painterly, narrative figuration, the work of Domenic Cretara immediately springs to mind. Well known for his skillful use of chiaroscuro techniques, Cretara creates highly dramatic compositions that can be interpreted on multiple levels.

In the past, much of Cretara's imagery evolved around classical, mythical, and biblical themes that had a mysterious aura. Both compelling and enigmatic, they could be experienced as timeless parables for contemporary concerns that continue to afflict humanity.

In his current series, Legal Fiction, Cretara flips the proverbial coin and does the reverse. This time his dramatic imagery depicts the O.J. Simpson trial (with its icons of popular culture), while a sense of Old Testament moral outrage cries out from the shadows.

This is a powerful exhibit, consisting of 20 oil paintings full of arche- typal figures, plus historical and mythological references. Surrounded by the recognizable cast of characters that invaded our lives and held us captive for months on end, these paintings overcome us with tragedy. Not just for the victims of the event, but for our judicial system. . . .for what happens when "celebrity" and mass-media frenzy turn a murder trial into a soap-opera.

In one episode of Legal Fiction, Cretara depicts The Suspect standing in the hot glaring spotlight of fame, but his face is hidden in the hood of his red sweatshirt. In another provocative scene he shows us the Lawyer on the Day of Atonement. While shredded documents and a purse of gold coins lie on the table in the foreground, a white angel and a black angel struggle for power behind the emoting attorney. Painted in the dramatic style of Caravaggio, this poignant morality tale is as timeless as good and evil.

"Lawyer on the Day of
Atonement", o/c, 74 x 44"

"Cerberus" oil on
paper, 25 x 30".

"Nicole," oil on
paper, 30 x 22".

"Forgotten," 84 x 122", 2002.
In Here Comes the Judge Cretara portrays presiding Judge Ito as an innocent child galloping into the courtroom on a wooden hobby horse. In Cerberus he inserts the snarling dog from Dante's Inferno between headshots of Simpson's criminal defense team.

Of course there are portraits of the victims--lying as beautiful, cold, and lifeless as marble Greek statues; and one of Madame Foreman that resembles the social-realism of Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco.

In addition to the paintings, there is one large-scale (84 x 122 inches) four-panel drawing on cardboard that was just completed in time for this exhibit. Titled Forgotten, it is Cretara's finale to Legal Fiction. In one panel, The Suspect stands with his hands in his sweatshirt while the dog Cerberus snarls over his shoulder. On the left are his defense team (you'll recognized the entire cast of characters), on the right is the prosecuting attorney, and at everyone's feet lie the nude, twisted bodies of the now-forgotten victims.

A framed trompe l'oeil drawing in the foreground of Cretara's scenario depicts a scene from Dante's Inferno. It's the Seventh Circle of Hell, the place where all murderers spend eternity.