George Chacona: On This Side Of Paradise

Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland
September 3 - October 10

Nothing to Fear (1998),
type R print

George Chacona is a Seattle-based artist who applies pigment in oil on the etched surfaces of one-inch marble slabs. Chacona invented this process 30 years ago as a rock-solid support for his painterly activity because he didn't like the "feel" of canvas or paper under his brushes and squeegees.

The subjects of his present series are the inchoate enigmas of love, hate, jealousy, and emotional blackmail played out in what now seem to be kitschy and melancholic imagery from the 1926 film version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. The Pre-Raphaelite, virtually spectral visage of silent film star Lillian Gish has particularly seized Chacona's imagination as the embodiment of mirrored passion and innocent perturbation.

With his revivified vamp/martyr and caddish/craven men, Chacona treads the same psychological ground as Symbolist painters such as Edvard Munch. He shares the moral outrage and technical adroitness of a Richard Hamilton (e.g., Hamilton's Kent State, 1970) in his endeavor to pull profoundly transferable emotions out of fleeting, even antiquarian sources.

Unavoidably comparing Chacona's isolation of the tender/romantic/revelatory images from this cinematic New England liaison and ensuing witch-hunt with the realtime media extravaganza presently drawing to an end in the Starr Commission, a certain sense of poignancy ennobles the old semantics of ominous love, and increases the ironic realization of what both mindless dalliance and prurient inquisition have finally come to on a really global scale. The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne, (this exhibition seems to evince) with all her strength, endurance and beauty, cannot lift us above the absurdities of our own Dark Age.

© Ted Lindberg