Clowns, Paintings, 24 x 24

Mihai Bara’s Winning Confluence of Formal Thrust and Buoyant Vision

Painting is like second nature to me,” says the Romanian-born artist Mihai Bara, who has lived and worked in the small picturesque European principality of Andorra since 1992. “It is natural to think, breathe and to absorb vibrations and use them to recreate a different world while I paint, according to my point of view, my sensibility, my desires, my doubts...” It is human nature, specifically, which preoccupies Bara most constantly, manifesting in expressively distorted figures encompassing a broad range of emotional states. In “The Pain,” for example, the most salient element is the figure’s hands upraised as in a beseeching hosanna of woe, fingers splayed like the snapping beaks of battling birds. Here, as in all of Bara’s paintings, collage elements, particularly shapes cut from paper, are combined with acrylic and latex paints on canvas to create compelling textural effects. Collage is as crucial to the thrust of Bara’s compositions as it is to those of Romare Bearden, often defining their main forms. However, the manner in which Bara merges cut paper with thick, rugged impasto is considerably more tactile. The heft of his materials reinforces the palpable power of his neo-expressionist style, which harks back to Karel Appel and the Cobra group for its sheer visual impact. At the same time, there can often be an almost Braque-like formal stability to Bara’s compositions, as seen to particular advantage in “Clowns,” where the two zany, wildly distorted buffoons in their garish costumes, one of which contains an area of bright harlequin patterns, occupy the picture plane with the stability of floral bouquets in a still life. Here, too, is a buoyant sense of the human comedy that also figures prominently in a large triptych format called “Kids,” which corrals the anarchic energy of childhood in a particularly pleasing composition where disproportionately large, expressively gesturing hands are, again, the picture’s piece de resistance. Here, as in another upbeat painting called “Wanna Play,” Bara deals with childhood, a subject recalled more frequently in literature than in visual art, given occasional exceptions such as certain sunny works by the impressionists and Philip Guston’s early social realist painting of slum kids with wooden swords using ashcan lids for shields. But Bara cites growing up in “a splendid Transylvanian town called Brasov” and “skiing and playing in the snow with my friends” as important formative memories that still influence his highly personal approach to art. As a colorist, Bara is as partial as de Kooning was (particularly in his “Woman” series) to various visceral shades of pink. For pink, after all, is one particular hue of the “human clay,” which for this artist becomes a kind of Play Dough that can be stretched in all manner of inventive ways to depict a host of mortal foibles and feelings. Thus his subjects range from the tender emotions of “Il Bambino” to the tormented visage of “The Sinner,” to “The Rumour,” in which cluster heads with gabbing gobs and a gesticulating hand pointing a finger at a blushing figure in the foreground demonstrate the cruelty of gossip. Fresh from a critically praised exhibition in Rome, Mihai Bara brings his refreshingly humanistic vision to Chelsea in this engaging solo show. –– Maureen Flynn

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