Lush, Magical Landscapes

Armando Morales has first New York showing since 1987.

Robert Miller Gallery is exhibiting a selection of oil and beeswax on canvas paintings by Armando Morales, completed between 1999-2004. The show encompasses examples of Mr. Morales classic body of imagery: religious and village scenes, lush tropical rain forests, bullfights, still lifes, and nudes.

Mr. Morales was born in 1927 in Granada, Nicaragua, and his work has been mostly exhibited in Paris. This is his first New York showing since 1987. His work has an international pedigree, appearing in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, in New York; the Museo de Arte Moderno, in Sao Paulo; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Mr. Morales’ nudes and still lifes share a rounded voluptuous quality that recalls earlier fresco traditions. His handling of the female form, with its depiction of flesh and flatness of the paint given equal importance, is reminiscent of Balthus.

Morales’ technical assuredness, including his formal concerns with spacing, lend his paintings an aura of wholeness, of proper completion, indicative of an exhaustive process that leaves out nothing. His original technique—using beeswax and the scraping away of the paint to expose covered layers of color—borrows from noteworthy antecedents, including the Italian fresco tradition, Cézanne and Giorgio de Chirico’s dislocated landscapes. In this regard, Mr. Morales selects pictorial tableaux whose chief characteristic is their defiant timelessness.

The most mysterious and satisfying canvases in the show are of the tropical rain forests and their rivers. Here the rich, verdant, organic subject matter lets Mr. Morales move into more abstract painting. The preponderance of green, cross-hatching, and scarification of the paint, transport one to a mythical, yet utterly plausible, destination.

How fitting, that the master of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writes of Morales in the exhibition catalogue, as:

“Armando Morales is clearly capable of painting anything – any moment, any feeling – without binding himself to the services of any particular school. He is a realist of a reality that only he knows, one that can pertain to the 19th or 21st century. The subject determines the method…In the years that followed, I had more than one occasion to confirm that observation. I would find his paintings where I least expected, each time I felt the magic akin to the one felt upon encountering by chance a long-lost love.”

Spending time in the world created by Mr. Morales offers the privilege of enjoying the extraordinary canvas surfaces of lush, painterly abstraction.

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