Antonio Carreno

at G.R. N’Namdi, through August 31

Abstract art often offers the mind freedom, as mysterious forms encourage the viewer to embark on an imaginative journey. And Antonio Carreno’s 12 seductive paintings at G.R. N’Namdi do invite the spectator “to create his own interpretation,” as the artist himself has said. The soft-edged, earth-colored, often rectangular shapes of Aparici–n certainly don’t suggest particular objects or meanings, and there’s a wonderful lyricism to the way these “veils of color,” in Carreno’s words, flow together. At the same time these forms seem curiously imprisoned in space. The central rectangle that contains most of the others is surrounded by a dark border, and its edges are echoed by the painting’s many vertical and horizontal lines and stripes. Though we participate in the creation of this work, its two contradictory forms of consciousness–the mind imprisoned and the mind freed–modify our freedom.

Poema #1 is the only picture here that suggests representational images. A dark form near the center with a red line beneath it resembles a bird on a perch; other horizontals suggest other perches, and the grid effect created by horizontal and vertical lines forms a metaphoric cage. Most areas of color around the “bird” are dark browns and grays, but just to the right of it is a luminous yellow “window” that the entrapped creature seems to be watching. At the same time the bird also looks like a human figure hanging by the neck–which might have been the reason a blue circle at lower right made me think of a hangman’s noose.

Carreno, who lives in New Jersey, was born in the Dominican Republic in 1963, where he studied figure drawing and painting at the National School of Fine Arts. His early influences include Dominican artists Jaime Colson, Norberto Santana, and Marianela Jimenez; later the work of Paul Klee and Arshile Gorky became important to him. Critics have said that Carreno’s works are “intertwined with the concept of writing and transmitting ideas of secret…messages,” that they represent an “effort to bring the viewer in contact with nature,” and that they reflect “the legacy of surrealism.” He told me he prefers “the freedom and the movement that you find in organic shapes,” but he also says he doesn’t think of his works as just paintings anymore but as “sources of energy” that “talk to you beyond the concrete matter that you are encountering.”

Mystics have often used paradoxes to point the way to transcendence, which can hardly be represented through finite media. And Carreno’s art does exhibit another contradiction related to the motifs of freedom and entrapment. Where his rough, sometimes abraded surfaces, constructed in layers that often include sand or marble dust, suggest solidity and even impenetrability, the illusions of transparency or of passageways visible at a distance from the canvases hint at escape. Embodying opposing ideas in a single work, the artist rejects monolithic states of consciousness in favor of something more complex.

At four by six feet, Last Balancing Act is the largest piece in the show; it also stands out for consisting mostly of light scratches on a brown ground and omitting rectangular color fields. The scratches are curved or straight and often clustered, with each cluster oriented in a different direction. Going from one group to another is unsettling, and traversing the whole picture leaves one with the feeling of having been spun around every which way. The areas that are largely empty of scratches, particularly one near the center, gain in power, becoming voids from which all specifics have been banished, bottomless brown pits that at once suggest soil and windows on the infinite.