The works of Houston-born but New York City-based artist Ricardo Osmondo Francis are presented by East End Studio Gallery in a solo exhibition that opened April 25 and is entitled Ricardo Osmondo Francis: Turn of the Century.
Using mixed media, some collages, and incorporating text, Francis combines artistic talent with an educational, even a preacherly, approach, so that his intent is seemingly persuasion. The result can be heavy-handed, though Francis eludes this problem in many of his more successful works.
"Duty Free Government" combines lush fruits with small text inserts: ".com", ".US", ".gov", ".edu", and ".org", with a small glitter dollar sign in one corner of the work. The contrast between the earth-anchored fruit and the abstractions of the internet is a powerful one.
"The Cocoa Tree" presents two African-Americans, facing each other. There are three small, subtle but highly relevant words inserted, widely separated: "free - at - last". The man on the left is a slave, on the right, a free man. The slave's head is outlined in gold glitter, evoking a saintliness symbol used in some stained glass portraits in a church. Francis is deft in capturing human expressions, very effective here in both men
Perhaps most charming is a work titled "Imagining: Self-Portrait with a Better Life", modestly small in size. We see Francis, smiling broadly, dapper, with a bowler hat, jacket and tie, white handkerchief in breast pocket, red carnation in lapel, obviously successful and on top of the world. Francis in fact leads a highly productive existence, as an artist himself, and also as the Curator in Residence for the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in Brooklyn, NY, and as Gallery Director for LeonidesArts New York, an artist-run non-profit visual arts organization, which has co-sponsored this exhibition. All this suggests a full life.
The large "The Man as Lifetime" seemed placid, perhaps too constructed and lacking the usual volatile energy of this artist. We see a well-dressed African-American man, with an ape crouched by his side and tropical fruit below the ape. Various dates are scattered throughout the painting: "1865", "1963", et al., with 1865 evoking the beginning of the civil rights movement with the ratification of the 13th amendment prohibiting slavery, and 1963 being a pivotal year in the civil rights movement. The ape suggests the gradual evolving of human sensibility, but the painting seems too labored, too cerebral.
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The large "An Allegory of Mercy" (68 x 52") captures more of the humanity that Francis savors and has an affinity for. "Think/Pienso" has an ape crouched in contemplation, but leaves us wanting more. "To Save Life" is involving, but the skull in the corner perhaps unnecessary. There are many other paintings as well - the exhibition in the spacious, attractive gallery is large, with extensive examples of Francis's talent.
There is considerable power in those portrayed by Francis. A quiet gaze can indicate power cloaked in serenity. Two small portraits, "Truth" and "Soy", stand out, despite their size, as they are simply portraits of heads, without the garnishing of glitter or the enhancement of text. Francis has a remarkable ability to capture the inner life of an individual, and where this strength is incorporated into his work, viewing is enriched.
Francis has learned to question authority, wisely, and the fruited images keep his impressions close to the soil from which we spring. There is a hint of homo-erotic admiration in some of the portraits of handsome, stalwart males, but the poise and power generated here has universal appeal as well.
Ricardo Osmondo Francis: Turn of the Century continues through May 8, East End Studio Gallery, 708-C Telephone Road, viewing by appointment., 832-488-9594 or email email@example.com.