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Artist Syprian Harvey offers a visceral vision

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

The exhibition of mixed media paintings and sculpture by Syprian Harvey at Salt Creek Artworks is powerful, profound and disturbing.

Heed well that last adjective.

Harvey confronts us and confounds me. I haven't yet processed what much of his art means but I know seeing it is a meaningful experience, ranking with the best contemporary art shows in Tampa Bay area galleries.

The collection of eight paintings and 25 sculptures pulls in multiple visual references to art movements and other artists without being derivative. The paintings are loaded with text. Some will call them essays; others, diatribes.

In P7 a horse on the right, looking like an escapee from Picasso's Guernica, brays "Read them, Quote them, Believe them" at a skeletal figure on the left. A whimsical character takes center stage along with the line, "I just wanted to be your toothbrush."

There are many more words scrawled on the painting but the sweetly direct and yearning statement stopped me. It has a deeper meaning in the painting's context, an exhortation to wash our inner, collective mouths out with soap.

You will probably think of Jean-Michel Basquiat when looking at the paintings. He, too, encodes lots of messages in his purposefully crude imagery.

But Harvey is a far more mature artist, pouring on cryptic and sophisticated narratives that explore religion, science, politics and history, all wrapped in a visual storyline. My overall take on the paintings is they're about how we process and interpret information into our personal histories and value systems.

The sculptures are more about how things define us and determine our perception of others. Harvey uses found objects, mostly metal, and the portraits and creatures he assembles range from contemplative to creepy.

The centerpiece is Meat, also the name of the entire show. Several ghastly carcasses encircle a cleaver rising from a central column fashioned to look like dripped metal. (Or blood.) Francis Bacon meets Alien.

What impresses most is the technical virtuosity. The works are meant to look rough but they're meticulously constructed with a sure hand and a masterful manipulation of materials.

The only disheartening note in the show is the ridiculously low prices being asked for the art. Maybe that explains the high number of red dots on them, meaning they've been sold. Collectors know a bargain when they see one.

I'm told Harvey's art fetches much more in other markets, and it's one more example of the Don't Buy Local mentality of many people of means who buy their art elsewhere. I'll not rant in this space about my feelings on the subject because I want my last words to encourage you to visit this show. See it and you'll see what I mean.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

>> If You go

Meat: New Works by Syprian Harvey

The exhibition is at Salt Creek Artworks, 1600 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg. Through Jan. 2. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Free. saltcreekartworks.com or (727) 894-2653.

Artist Syprian Harvey offers a visceral vision 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 3:30am]
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