For his first solo exhibition at LaMontagne Gallery, Brooklyn artist Saul Chernick (b. 1975) showed himself to be a highly imaginative master draftsman. In 18 skillfully rendered drawings and prints (all 2011 or 2012), he merged the esthetics of Renaissance- and Enlightenment-era prints with his own idiosyncratic and campy inventions. The theme was the human desire to connect with the eternal, as conveyed by the show’s title, “Skyward Gestures.”
In the eponymous drawing, a sinewy, bearded hermit practices the traditional yoga triangle pose outside a cave—his straight legs spread wide and his left arm and head turned upward. Carefully placed black-marker contour lines are highlighted with touches of white crayon, while delicate parallel hatchings recall the tones and textures of old-master etchings and engravings. In Air Guitar, another emaciated hermit, his genitals covered by a loinclothlike layer of leaves and stems, attempts to reach an ecstatic state by playing an invisible guitar. A third hermit figure takes center stage in the large ink-and-watercolor drawing The Gathering Place. Devilish beasts sprout from his shoulders, while cherubs sleep and frolic all around. The work demonstrates Chernick’s gusto for the grotesque with an assortment of mutants reminiscent of Brueghel’s images of the underworld. The wacky bestiary includes a multiheaded dog and dragon, a crowned lion and a hairy eyeball that seems to come straight from the pages of Zap Comix.
Although the hermit and monster drawings display a wealth of symbolism, Chernick’s talent as a draftsman is best revealed in his anatomical drawings based on images found in historical science books and on the Internet. In the Window (after Odoardo Fialetti) is a flawless ink-and-watercolor rendering of the 17th-century Venetian anatomist’s depiction of a nude male coyly hiding behind a flap of his own, lifted-up stomach tissue as he bares his innards. Chernick tweaks Fialetti’s not-so-subtly homoerotic specimen by blackening the paper with watercolor-turning the lights down, as it were—and framing him in a Gothic archway.
Five black-and-white relief prints on paper combine Northern Renaissance religious imagery with depictions of computer parts, suggesting an affinity between the celestial and the cyber realms and between notions of sacred and computer icons. In the Clouds, for instance, features various screens, buttons and ports floating amid a scene of billowy clouds, paper scrolls and glimpses of wings. Dressing contemporary technology in such historical guise, these prints show how our current tools of communication will one day appear as antiquated as images of hermits, devils and cherubs.
PHOTO: Saul Chernick: Air Guitar, 2012, marker and crayon on paper, 18 by 14 inches; at LaMontagne