Buffalo News Review

At Studio Hart, exhibit explores surreal, sublime aspects of humanity

Craig and Maria Pabico LaRotonda’s latest exhibit “Everything is Beautiful, Nothing Hurts” at Studio Hart, showcases the surreal and sublime aspects of humanity.

It features nearly 20 acrylic paintings, hand embellishments, and digital prints done by the two artists, each with the goal of depicting the human condition at its most brutal yet beautiful.

In viewing the exhibit, it becomes clear that the LaRotondas were aiming for a theme of searching within the scope of humanity. What makes us human? How far can the notion of humanity be pushed? With characters crafted by Craig with the names “Robo-sapiens” and “Baby Saints” contrasted with Maria’s majestic, minimalist prints, it makes for an interesting juxtaposition of icons, but is consistent with the thematic aims the artists set.

“This is a collaborative effort [that is] about the human condition,” said Craig LaRotonda. “A lot of the characters that I have created here are searching for enlightenment, they are seekers.”

This marks the first time the married couple has done an exhibit together. Studio Hart owner Barbara Hart,reached out to them because she was interesting in housing a collaborative effort featuring two artists who were passionate about their work and whose creations would nicely complement one another.

This can be seen in the contrasting depictions of hearts that share names with the exhibit. Maria’s “Everything is Beautiful” is a digital print of a woman in mid-bow as an image of a heart emerges in the background. Craig’s “Nothing Hurts” features a painted exposed, bleeding human heart wrapped in barbed wire, sporting a human eye. They are images that fit in well with the exhibit’s theme as they show the inherent beauty and the sheer ugliness that entails being human.

“By showing the different, unattractive side of humanity, we have made [the themes of this exhibit] universal,” said Maria LaRotonda.

This may have been represented further by the lack of a human face on any of the portraits. One such piece, “Waiting for Beckett,” is quite Dadaist influenced. It replaces the top half of playwright Samuel Beckett’s face with a steam machine against a background made of a mix of clippings such as pieces from a crossword puzzle and blueprints.

“I wanted a real graphic experience with these,” Craig said about the piece. “They portray a stark quality of composition by using mixed media (file paper, magazine clippings).”

Another work that portrays human qualities without a human face is part of Craig’s ongoing series of primate paintings called “Souls of Fire.” This painting shows a mystic conjuring up fire, but their head and hands are that of an ape. “Everything is Beautiful, Nothing Hurts” is unafraid to reach the strangeness that can also be found in beauty. This can be seen in those very works that purposefully replace the human face with animal or machine imagery.

The title “Everything is Beautiful, Nothing Hurts” is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel “Slaughterhouse Five.” Much like the post-modern approach of the novel, Craig’s and Maria’s exhibit is rooted in questioning all that we know already and turning reality on its head.

--from Buffalo News, reviewed by Rueben Wolf, February 15, 2016