Carmen Cicero: ‘Early Works: 1970-1980s’

By ROBERTA SMITH        APRIL 2, 2015

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Carmen Cicero, now in his late 80s, has worked in several styles, none his own, but always with enough panache to establish proprietary claims. In the 1950s, he was a promising second-generation Abstract Expressionist who exhibited regularly, pursuing thatches of autonomist lines on paper and canvas, examples of which are owned by all New York’s major museums.

A disastrous studio fire in 1971 seems to have turned Mr. Cicero toward his own comical version of neo-Expressionism figuration, a vibrant, sometimes visionary style enlivened by vigorous brushwork, radiant color and a sense of high drama. The earliest work here is “Crime” from 1976, which features a blizzard of short rapid brush strokes — a kind of parody of Abstract Expressionism — that, with study, reveals a tough guy firing a gun in the viewer’s direction. It is like an American-gangster version of the thick-limbed young men for which the Italian artist Sandro Chia became known.

More accomplished is “The Surprise at the Window,” from 1981, in which a ghostly Count Dracula scares the wits, cigarettes and martinis out of a bunch of soigné Hollywood silent-film types standing in a wood cabin — or on a stage — alive with light and shadow. The generally white-on-white “Nightmare” (1986), which depicts a madman in a frozen landscape dotted with faces has some wonderful moments, while the relatively small “Man With Mask” (1987) contrasts a green hat and a vivid orange mask. It is in many ways a perfect painting that some museum should add to its Cicero holdings.

June Kelly Gallery 166 Mercer Street, SoHo Closed on Tuesday.