Roberto Clemente De Leon and Shiri Mordechay: Theater of the Absurd
October 22 through November 20, 2021
Curated by Nina Mdivani
By GARY BREWER, November 2021
As our world careens through uncertain times, the existential anxiety that was expressed through the Theater of the Absurd is an appropriate context through which to view the work of these two artists. Both Shiri Mordechay and Roberto Clemente De Leon create works that reflect different aspects of the absurd forces that shape our world today.
Shiri Mordechay is a remarkable painter of extraordinary emotional power. Her unfiltered release of subconscious visions using ink on paper, are nightmarish fairy tales that open up deep reservoirs of mythic archetypes. There are very few other artists today whose connection to a state of consciousness allows their visions to flow as freely from Dionysian wells of beauty and terror.
In the piece Moth Dream, 2021, we are confronted with a fiercely threatening chimera. An amalgam of plant, animal and human parts take on the visage of a Hindu God, or a creature from Hieronymus Bosch. It sits astride a horse with multiple penises erupting from between its legs. Its mouth is full of the snarling teeth of some beast, and the tendrils that come from its head are adorned with moths and butterflies. Next to this ominous visage, another figure on a horse has either fallen to the ground or is fleeing. A human face with mouth agape cries out, with ears that are part wings and part entrails; they comically look like the ears of a clown.
Mordechay’s mastery of her medium, ink on paper, gives her the freedom to discover layers of emotion and meaning in the process of creating her paintings. Pools of ink metamorphosize into visions of actors engaged in a mythic drama. Moth Dream, suggests a battlefield where forces are engaged in a spiritual war. The chimerical figure could be seen as a nature deity doing battle against the human figure who is falling to the ground, incapacitated by the tendrils that have grasped its neck. Her works engage the viewer and draw them into these irrational universes where the meaning of each painting is a surreal journey of personal interpretation. They are imagistic Rorschach tests where what we see reflects something about our own state of consciousness.
The epic scale of Theater 2021, (102 x 107 inches), portrays a strange image of the patrons, spirits, animals, and insects filling an enormous theater with an immersive power. We do not see the stage- it seems to be off to the right, or we may be on the stage ourselves: actors in a theater piece over which we have no control, witnessed by a hauntingly surreal audience whose faces look to us for some kind of meaning. Mordechay’s paintings are the utterances of a Sibyl and we play the part of an Oracle deciphering their meaning.
Roberto Clemente De Leon is a young sculptor working in ceramic, wood and metal. He creates darkly theatrical sculptures to depict and raise awareness about the factory farming of animals and the excesses of American culture.
In the piece On Demand, 2020, De Leon has created a small vitrine, a stage-like box illuminated from inside with light bulbs. The box is made of wood with a distressed patina that gives it an expressive tone. It is divided into two halves; on one side an overweight man sits in profile gazing through to the other side where a white chicken hangs from its feet. There is a mirror behind the two clay figures and the artist has created an infinity effect so that the images repeat into distant space. One sees their own face in the reflection, deepening the psychological engagement, where the viewers become a part of the image. There are no passive observers in this cultural conundrum.
De Leon’s sculptures have a subdued quality that make their point without the distraction of heavy glazes: the artist said that he only used an under glaze as he did not want it to distract from the content of the works. On Demand has a terse quality- the figure of the man is a caricature- the features stylized into a generic, anonymous cipher. The repeating reflection of this simplified profile within the infinity mirror adds to the ennui of the man. He is dressed in a white tank top and orange pants. De Leon said that he wanted to convey the feeling that this character was a prisoner imprisoned by the constant marketing of images and ideas that shape his behavior and desires. On Demand could be a maquette for the stage-set of a Beckett play.
Both of these artists create works that express a shared sensibility about the complex times in which we live. It is a time when absurdity has become the norm and we look to art to offer us a cathartic experience with which to weather the storm. WM