“The Unreasoning Mask: New Revelations in Figurative Metaphysics” is the mouthful of a title for Jason Robert Bell’s exhibition of painting and sculpture at Thomas Robertello Gallery. The small canvases that ring the room contain single totemic figures. The mythic protagonists are a techno-colored mishmash of cultural references including African masks, esoteric mysticism, art history, Disney, Willy Wonka and heavy metal. Encased beneath a layer of thick resin and depicted in otherworldly colors, the characters appear invulnerable. Usually alone in their foggy landscapes and adorned with flourishes of sparkling sand and metallic paint, the cavemen, fairies, cyclops or chimera are monumental despite their size. While the paintings themselves are alluring, the apparent invincibility of their characters and the perfection of the imagined world make it hard to relate to them beyond their superficial painted quality. This is most evident when comparing them to the nearby sculptures. While as totemic as the paintings, they are much smaller in scale, making them more toy-like than god-like. The painted paper and foamcore creatures fit in with Bell’s other creations but also recall Mexican and folk art traditions of sculpture. Bell’s work is an emblem of an information age where cultural symbols can be recombined at will into endless fantasyscapes that are only useful to the extent that they reflect our own terrain. (Dan Gunn)
Through February 21 at Thomas Robertello Gallery, 939 W. Randolph St.