Combining superb draftsmanship and biting satire, Paul Cadmus has had a distinguished and often controversial career as a figurative painter and social commentator. Now in his 80s, Cadmus was something of an enfant terrible in the 1930s with his caustic, homo-erotic renditions of Bohemian intellectuals, flabby suburbanites and whore-mongering sailors. Cadmus' strength has always derived from his fusion of masterly technique--a combination of Durer-like chiaroscuro through cross-hatching, and Michelangelo's eye for classical form--with the penetrating observation of a Daumier or Grosz. As a result, his cartoon-like "lampoons" have tended to wear better than his formal figurative studies, where sensuality is celebrated for its own sake rather than as a springboard for something more politically substantial.
In a rare local showing spanning 50 years, Cadmus offers paintings, etchings and drawings that illustrate his self-implicating role as participant-observer in what he clearly sees as the degeneration and hubris of modern man. Thus in "Study for David and Goliath," he seems about to become the victim of his own satanic muse, while in "See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Etc." he both creates and panders to the Machiavellian machinations of power politics. By placing himself simultaneously inside and outside the the deceits of representation and self-delusion, Cadmus comes across as a fallible moralist rather than preachy evangelist. The results tread a thin, but ultimately successful line between repulsion and seduction. (Louis Newman Galleries, 322 N. Beverly Drive, to Dec. 31.)