Carmen Cicero’s Animated Characters at June Kelly Gallery

Cicero is a fan of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville.

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Carmen Cicero, Man with Mask (1987).
Image: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.
Carmen Cicero, The Surprise in the Window (1981).
Image: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.
Carmen Cicero, Crime (1976).
Image: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.
Carmen Cicero, Sue and the Elders (1988).
Image: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.
Installation view of "Carmen Cicero: Early Works: 1970–1980s."
Photo: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.
Installation view of "Carmen Cicero: Early Works: 1970–1980s."
Photo: Courtesy of June Kelly Gallery.

The works of Carmen Cicero at June Kelly Gallery have the quality of an enticing comic strip. Cicero, a master storyteller, seduces with Harlequin types and soft watercolors. His rugged acrylic canvases are theatrical and his more demure watercolors are dreamlike.

This body of work from the 1970s and 1980s puts Cicero’s surrealist leanings on display. The artist, a literary enthusiast known to get lost in the words of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville, freely plays with satire and humor. He is also a trumpet player who imparts a subtle musical quality to his work. His watercolor scenes are light, dynamic, and entrancing. Star Man (1989), Sailing to Byzantium (1985), and The Balustrade (1989) all provide respite from the thematic fury of his larger canvases, which are plagued with nightmares, criminals, and masks.

Many pieces are marked by strong color and tension. We are left waiting for (and anticipating) the next action, such as in his canvas The Surprise in the Window (1981), which depicts an ominous figure staring into an interior from the nighttime window. Prince Charming (1981) outlines a dagger-clasping lover. The dress and expression of the characters of Man in Mask (1987) convey a seriousness that plays against the overall aesthetic playfulness of the painting.

All in all, this is an invigorating presentation of work by a thoughtful and deeply perceptive artist.

“Carmen Cicero: Early Works: 1970–1980s” is on view at June Kelly Galery, 166 Mercer Street, New York, from March 6–April 7.


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