NEW YORK REMAINS A MARKET TOWN but it is increasingly hard to call it a creative center. Even what comes to market tends to cluster around the contemporary commonplaces that clog Chelsea and its satellite on the Lower East Side. Much good work is exhibited outside the official precincts. If you can make it to the Quick Center for the Arts  at Fairfield University, you can see what I mean.
On view is a splendid mid-career survey of works by Joel Carreiro, currently head of the M.F.A program at Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. While he has been a painting prof at Hunter since 1986, he has exhibited outside the city more often than in it. I first saw his work three years ago at Concordia College and fell in love.
He takes the loveliest source material—Italian Renaissance painting, illuminated manuscripts, Persian miniatures, baroque decorative objects—and reworks it into something wholly contemporary yet distinctly evocative of its roots. Pure magic. The word conjurer fits him nicely but perhaps bricoleur is more to the point. It has just the right cosmopolitan flair to describe a workman who gathers up whatever he needs from where he stands. A bit from here, a bit there, all of it made to cohere by a transformative eye.
He scours books and magazines for high-quality reproductions that he photocopies, enlarges and cuts into small rectangles. Working somewhat in the manner of a mosaicist, he arranges these paper “tiles” into swirling designs locked into place on the resulting grid. (Rectangular shapes of equal size necessarily form a grid.] When the arrangement suits his eye, he copies the images onto transfer paper and, with a small iron, transfers the image to gessoed birch panels. Carreiro has an enviable capacity for creating movement within the confines of a geometric structure.
The work is so beautiful—and Carreiro himself poised on the university museum circuit— that I cannot help but wonder why it is not better known. Could it be his process? Not sure. Just guessing. But doesn’t the phototransfer procedure have a limited life-span? Even if it is fine for two hundred years, as I am told it is, that is rather finite. If Rembrandt’s etchings had been “archival” for only 200 years, we would not have them anymore. It would be interesting to see what these graceful collaged images would look like if the original materials—meaning the found reproductions—were used instead of photocopies.
Perhaps I am too concerned here with process. I am just so drawn to Carreiro’s work that I want it to last forever. It testifies unabashedly to the beauty of older art and grants it new life. Here is a particular favorite that is not in this show:
Note: The exhibition will travel to the University of Tennessee, Nashville, and Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA. If you cannot see the show, you can get hold of the catalogue.
© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey