Chicago-born painter Roberto Juarez spent the past year in Italy, a place long celebrated for its powers of artistic inspiration. It certainly had such an effect on Juarez, as evidenced by the gorgeous paintings on view in this show. The 16 medium-sized and large canvases here result from Juarez's stay at the American Academy in Rome, which he attended after receiving the 1996 Rome Prize for painting. Like a stroll through a lush Italian garden followed by a visit to a cool museum of antiquities, this show featured canvases in which the artist achieves a breezy light-heartedness combined with a weighty sense of history.

The painting Shameless/Mark shows on the left a mandala-like form -- actually a study of a page from an illuminated medieval manuscript in the Vatican Museum -- interwoven with vegetable forms and flowers set against a pinkish ground. Gubboio Artichokes looks like a fragment of an ancient Roman mural. Here, vegetables and leafy twigs are painted against a gray and brown background, which resembles the texture of painted plaster. Juarez has introduced the figure into the work. Nude male torsos painted in blue, and sometimes shown sideways or upside down, appear in several works. They were inspired by ancient statues the artist studied at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

A suite of large paintings by Juarez titled "They Entered the Road," dedicated to friends who have died of AIDS, was recently acquired by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo., where it is on view through Feb. 1, 1997.

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