Woman at Table, Children Underneath, by Seymour Rosofsky

Press materials for the upcoming Seymour Rosofsky show “Xylophone Solo” describe the painter’s early subjects as “little monsters,” and that’s not just a cute attempt to reclaim the term from Lady Gaga. Rosofsky, who went to that great monsters’ ball in the sky in 1981, was part of the Monster Roster, a postwar Chicago movement that also included the likes of H.C. Westermann, Leon Golub, and Karl Wirsum. Based at the School of the Art Institute, the group championed a surrealistic form of representationalism at the height of the abstract-expressionist vogue. Rosofsky’s subjects are identifiable, yet really weird and even monstrous—characterized by a sense of whimsy touched with a seriously sinister undertone. His early painting Unemployment Agency features several rows of identical men in hats, sitting in severe, tall-backed chairs, facing rows of boxes that disappear into the distance. A nightmare of endless bureaucracy, it hangs now in Rahm Emanuel’s office. Make of that what you will.

“Xylophone Solo” offers a look at Rosofsky’s drawings, composed with pencil, watercolor, pastel, and charcoal. The pieces contain his usual notes of darkness held at bay. Girls Jumping in Tilting House, for instance, features a modest, single-story clapboard structure coming apart around two rope-skipping tots. Youngsters—or something like them—also figure into Woman at Table, Children Underneath. The kids here, though, may not be kids. They’re devilish-looking, with little grown-up faces. The woman of the title is naked, pensive—vulnerable to whatever tricks might be played on her.