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Welcome to the latest art to emerge from the contemporary visionaries as seen through the eyes of Platinum Cheese. 

Nicola Verlato "Pagan Pop" @ Merry Karnowsky Gallery

Nicola Verlato is clearly a modern day master who has studied art, not out of textbooks or from online images, but by seeing the great paintings up close and first hand for himself.

Deeply rooted in the classical tradition, Nicola offers stunning explorations in lighting, flesh tone and fabric texture. I would describe the paintings presented in his "Pagan Pop" show as strangely captivating moments frozen either in time, or water, or even outer space. The subjects of each painting are stuck in a limbo, almost in the same way a Polaroid picture can heighten a seemingly mundane moment. The paintings display disruptions that have interrupted what could have been an otherwise tranquil, beautiful scene.

In "The Hunting of the Haunted Painting," a children's bedroom scene is thrown into chaos as an odd, floating spirit boy has seemingly emerged from the out-of-place painting that is hanging in the room. The work leaves the viewer with many unanswered questions. But, that is the beauty of the piece. The supernatural activity presented in the painting would make no more sense to us if it were to happen in real life. It is an intended unsolved mystery.

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A mythic satyr character populates a number of the works and seems to be caught in the cross-hairs of modern-day society. In each representation, the lower torso of the satyr is very traditionally rendered, while the upper body seems to be that of a modern day rabble-rouser. In almost each scene, he is either paralyzed, or stunned, and frozen- Implying that his mischievous adventures have been cut short by outside forces. The satyr character's adventures remind me of the playful Puck character from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights Dream" which questions our memories' origins and whether they were real or dreamed.

In the focal point of the show, "Pagan Pop," the satyr has been crucified and yet he expels pink flower petals, implying he lives on. He appears to be encased in a kind of glass museum exhibit case. What is so striking about this painting is the 3 preoccupied patrons ignoring the dramatic image right above them. An Iphone is shown being used to snap a picture and seems to be a comment on our reliance more and more on digital documentation replacing cerebral savoring of what we experience.

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In "Off The Grid," the satyr character is pictured finally rest after an implied wild day, with his skateboard and guitar nearby. I imagine he would blend in well with the crowd down at Venice Beach boardwalk. The beautiful grid pattern of the city lights far below calls to mind a lookout spot I love that is beneath the Hollywood Sign. Just like the real wildlife in LA, this creature may occasionally have brushes with the inhabitants of the city, but ideally prefers retreating to the quiet safety of the mountains.

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The only recognizable person in the paintings is a depiction of the pop icon, Madonna, in a work entitled "From Madonna to Madonna." Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been slain by Madonna. Although not a fan of Madonna, I was not offended by this painting's subject because it's not overt. You see the muscular female body first and then go up to the recognizable face. I interpreted it as a comment on society's changing preferences in iconography and what is now worshipped. Religion strives to keep values and beliefs sacred for the greater good. Whereas Madonna, and many other celebrities, tend to challenge values and beliefs for shock value and attention for their own benefit.

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In "Breaking Point 1 & 2," the female subject is being tossed about violently. It may be the same model used for both, as the exposed midsections with distinctive cellulite, is similar. It is for sure what your eye pinpoints first. They are both clothed in short shorts, which adds humor to the dangerous situations depicted in both. In one, a car accident has expelled the occupant who braces for impact as all kinds of contents, that couldn't have all fit in her purse, go flying. In the other, a tornado or perhaps a space ship has lifted the shocked woman, her feisty, still-leashed, little dog and lot's of lose change into a spinning maelstrom. In both case, you trust that the woman will survive and perhaps it's just her vivid dream you are witnessing.

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Natural and supernatural forces are constantly at odds within each other in Nicola's worlds. There is a distinct sense of playfulness in the exploration of magical and mythical elements throughout the exhibit- be they extraterrestrial, paranormal, or pagan. Gallery goers must reexamine the paintings again and again if they hope to soak up the bounty of details each work offers.

"Pagan Pop" is on view through September 28th at Merry Karnowsky Gallery.

Words by Rick Galiher

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