Described in ArtForum as a painter capable of striking through to the complex and contradictory sensations at life's core, the impact of Cicero's painting is in its extraordinary, powerful images. Berta Walker is pleased to present the most recent work of Carmen Cicero in concurrence with his retrospective exhibition at the Provincetown Association and Museum.


The work of the last decade has become simpler, economic in organization, more symbolic than mysterious, more suggestive than narrative.  Many of the paintings place symbolic object, nostalgia laden, icon-like, against a romantic landscape -- often a landscape reminiscent of an earlier master such as Goya, Van Gogh, Rembrandt. 


Although the work has mellowed, the artist has accomplished this development without losing any of the focused Cicero energy - that energy that comes from high value, jewel-like color, and bold line. Critic Gerrit Henry has said that Cicero's paintings blend " 'abstract' with 'figurative' styles to come up with works that are as stylistically and narratively hybrid as the rarest desert blooms."


In his best known expressionist work, Cicero's subject matter and perspective is clearly and dramatically influenced by his residence on New York's Bowery since 1971 when a fire destroyed his more conventional suburban along with his life's work. His images, distinctly bold and inventive, even caricaturish in style, touch our deepest and most vulnerable nerves.  The facial expression, the posture of his figures, extreme and distorted, the high key color, the abruptly shifting scale -- these characteristic elements take emotional expression to the limit of endurance, whether it is sheer terror or the darkest humor.  The curiously disjunctive relationship of figure and ground warn the viewer that things are not likely as they seem. These foreground-background ambiguities increase the narrative mystery of the painting, appeal to our love of sensation. Who is the man running?  Is he victim or perpetrator? The viewer experiences that human compulsion to ambulance chasing.  Yet, there's a compassionate detachment in his perspective, acceptance more than fatalism.  Art Critic Gerrit Henry calls him a "social realist with a moral conscience dedicated only to wonder."


Cicero's method originates in a kind of automatism.  He begins with drawings-- impulsive, exploratory, and random -- scribbling, searching until he feels a strong emotion.  "Then he begins to paint," explains Lowery Sims, 20th Century Art Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote in his catalog essay for Cicero's 1984 exhibition at the Graham Modern in New York, "and hopes that his subconscious material will begin to reveal itself out of the meandering framework he has set up.  ...he meditates on the unguided scribblings to see imagery, to find it out of the maze."


Carmen Cicero was born in Newark, NJ, in 1926 and went to New Jersey State Teachers College--now Kean College, then on to Hunter College in New York City where he studied with Robert Motherwell. He says that he "instantly became an Abstract Expressionist." His first exhibition was at Peridot Gallery in 1957. But in short time, he began to feel the pull to figurative work, and, according to Henry, "with no great stealth, but with a great deal of aesthetic derring-do, brought his own evolving sense of the figurative back to bear upon his --and mid-century America's--painting," dubbing the new work figurative expressionism.


Cicero's work has been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums, including Peridot Gallery, Leslie Rankow Gallery, Gracie Mansion Gallery, Graham Modern Gallery, and June Kelly Gallery in New York, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY, The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, National Academy of Design, The Whitney Museum of American Art Annual, National Institute of Arts and Letters, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery Simone Stern Gallery in New Orleans, Goldman-Kraft Gallery in Chicago, Dubins Gallery, Los Angeles, New Jersey State Museum, Long Point Gallery in Provincetown, Wellfleet Gallery in Wellfleet and Palm Beach, Berta Walker Gallery, and internationally in Holland, Austria, Italy and Norway.  His work is in the permanent collections of many museums including Brooklyn Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Cornell University, National Academy Museum, New Jersey State Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC, The Museum of Modern Art,  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Art Gallery of Toronto, Canada, Provincetown Art Association and Museum.  He has received fellowships and awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Ford Foundation Purchase Prize, and twice, a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. 


August 2000

©2007 Rena Lindstrom All Rights Reserved