During the past decade, Wisconsin painter Fred Stonehouse has concentrated on a kind of figuration grounded in Latin American, Haitian, North African and tattoo art. The work centers on morality tales, especially the struggle between good and evil. Some of the figures recall images of saints and martyrs and others seem to be allegorical self-portraits in the manner of Frida Kahlo, whose work has had a lasting influence on Stonehouse. The works in this show -- 12 mostly small panel paintings and a group of works on paper -- feature centralized images usually overlain with cursive script like that found on old shop signs. Framed in heavy antiqued wood, the extremely distressed surfaces of the pieces are richly nuanced in terms of color and texture.
Most of the paintings focus on a single human or animal shown in the midst of, or just after, some terrible ordeal. Fanatico del Sexo shows a decapitated head floating in space. Blood drips from the severed neck and the head is covered by large boils and running sores. Emanating from all around the head are blue and white bands, like celestial rays of light. Some works are rather lighthearted, including El Gallo, which shows a stylized rooster eating a worm; it's cheeks puffed, and eyes wide open in delight. But a sinister mood is restored in Honne Respe, one of the best works in the show. Here, a black Catholic priest seems to be spewing from his lips white spray -- suggestive of a priest's blessing or curse, one cannot say. In all of the works on view, Stonehouse conflates beauty and horror, the sacred and profane.
Fred Stonehouse, Apr. 9-May 2, 1998, at Howard Scott/M-13, 72 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.