The Triton Museum of Art currently has on display works of the Santa Cruz artist Robert Chiarito in a show titled: In the Raw: New Work by Robert Chiarito.

By Andy Muonio

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Installation view, Robert Chiarito exhibition at Triton Museum of Art

Triton Museum‚Äôs exhibition of Robert Chiarito‚Äôs work includes recent large oil paintings, monotypes and charcoal drawings. A charged and active theme of nude figures runs through the show. The earlier paintings are painted with a vibrant color palette in contrasts that create brilliance and at times vibrate like Op Art. The more recent works have a more subdued palette. In his statement Chiarito reveals that the charcoal drawings are begun with rubbings of the artist’s studio floor and the paintings are derived from random marks, all to activate the subconscious and begin a dialogue with the work, and to ultimately form his figures.

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Robert Chiarito’s Hot to Trot and below, Tiff


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In the Raw they certainly are; Chiarito‚Äôs figurative works have a blatant sexual undertone, but they also seem to explore a bare relationship between man and woman (pun intended). This dichotomy, at once blatant and subtle, could also describe the visual interest Chiarito achieves. The shapes arising from the artist’s subconscious form dynamic active people; not one is simply portrayed with a sitter’s gaze. The closest to stationary is perhaps Babe, a charcoal on paper drawing. The exuberant head and large mass of hair takes up the top quarter of the drawing and glares at the viewer with a seemingly upturned nose. Below, out pops an ample breast set at an active diagonal held into the frame by a crooked left arm, which could be resting on air or captured in movement. As the body slides diagonally left, opposite of the breast, we come to a proud spread of the legs that reveal to the viewer, as in most of Chiarito‚Äôs work here, the subject‚Äôs gender very clearly. Finally, the figure is held up by its left leg, knee raised and bent with the foot firmly planted on the bottom edge of the drawing. Beyond the relatively stable posture in Babe, we see figures in all states of movement, many, if not most, with their mouths open, caught in the act of conversation or perhaps a carnal scream.

The brutish style that Chiarito employs creates an expressionism that seems to cross different genres. The figure as abstraction, leaping in and out of the composition in his most recent works, seems to combine Brice Marden‚Äôs lyrical lines with Max Beckmann‚Äôs rough figures. This happens most significantly in the work Hey, Baby!, charcoal on paper, but also in the 2008 painting Happy Boy. Though they may emerge from the subconscious and appear to the artist from his charcoal rubbings and random mark-making, there is clearly a formal conscious mind manipulating the page to its completion. This can be seen in Chiarito’s knowledgeable figure drawing and his “distorted accuracies” of the anatomy. The left leg of the female figure Hot To Trot is an example. Here we see the playful, yet correct, arrangement of the leg muscles from the gluteus medius, the length of the sartorius muscle as it wraps around large rectus femoris and down to the patella above the calf and muscles below, to the gastrocnemius, the tibialis anterior/posterior and soleus.

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What in the World Were you Thinking? – Male/female dynamics by Robert Chiarito

Each work in the show retains a sense of whimsy. We may be seeing a heated argument between couples in What in the World Were You Thinking? or Tiff, but it is tempered by Chiarito’s style that brings us to the cusp of laughter. Here we see that relationship to the COBRA school that Chiarito mentions in his statement. COBRA, the post WWII movement in Northern Europe, was an Abstract Expressionism in a lighter vein than the formal Greenbergian movement happening in New York. It was lighter in the sense of playfulness and experimentation, a little less formal but not less serious: less Hans Hoffman, more William De Kooning. As I write this in the gallery each and every viewer smiles as they decipher the work.

Robert Chiarito‚Äôs oil paintings, monotypes and charcoal drawings will be on display at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara until June 6, 2010. The museum’s Curator of Art is Preston Metcalf.

Triton Museum of Art, 1505 Warburton Ave.,
Santa Clara, CA 95050, http://www.tritonmuseum.org/exhibitions_Chiarito.php

Andy Muonio is a figurative painter and recent MFA graduate from San Jose State’s painting program. He exhibits his work widely and teaches at the Mountain View Community School of Music and Arts.

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