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Raymond Saunders at Hunter

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   In this sprawling exhibition, California-based artist Raymond Saunders shows recent, abstract assemblages, paintings and works on paper that touch upon broad themes ranging from schoolboy memories and gritty street life to austere meditations on death and transcendence. Saunders succeeds with his far-reaching agenda by means of a variety of mediums and techniques, and by an unusual installation.

He has covered the walls in the first room with layers of peeling or torn posters, as in the decollage of Mimmo Rotella. This potent image of urban decay is modified in the next room, in which the artist addresses themes of childhood and education. On one wall, below a shelf of children's books, is a vitrine containing toys. In the middle room is an antique grammar school desk filled with exhibition catalogues from Saunders' shows of the past 30 years. The large paintings and works on paper hanging on the walls in this room include compositions featuring expressionist brushwork, graffitti scrawl and highly refined figure drawings.

One large painting with a black and blue background features a large number "two" in red, a palette and brushes fixed to the canvas, and patches of wildly smeared and splattered paint. Saunders, in this work, which seems akin to paintings by Jasper Johns and Pop art in general, appears to explore the act of painting itself. The work conveys the notion that artists are considered second-class citizens, forever set apart from society's mainstream.

The best paintings in the show, hung in another room, seem to examine the mysteries of artistic creation and the process of imagination itself. In these dark and haunting works, white lilies glow in a jet black sky, and, in one of the most poetic paintings on view, a pair of black suns illuminate the glistening blue and black ocean. Works like these affirm Saunders' reputation as a true visionary.

Raymond Saunders, "Recent Work," Mar. 18-Apr. 11, 1998, at Hunter College Gallery, 450 West 41st Street, New York, N.Y. 10036

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