Review: Oscar Cueto applies the Rorschach test

The symmetrical irregularity of a Rorschach test — an inkblot folded over on itself — serves as a scrim on which to project deep-seated biases, assumptions, fears. But what if these murky ciphers leaped off the paper and walked among us?

Mexican artist Oscar Cueto explores this outlandish but intriguing scenario in a series of 18 postcard-size watercolors at Walter Maciel Gallery.

Based on his own photographs, the paintings look like typical tourist snaps — buildings, oceans, people strolling in the park — except that each one is graced by a Rorschach “creature” or two, looming at the end of a road or flying through the sky like a bat. These figures, with their jagged, organic edges, evoke the increasingly abstract terrors of recent horror movies, yet they sit rather quietly in the landscape, as if just out to take the air.

Indeed, it’s tempting to read these tiny paintings as metaphors for a psychological airing — our deepest fears, anxieties and secrets bearing down upon us — but the intimate scale of the works and Cueto’s light, casual hand belie such a hysterical reading. If nothing else, these “monsters” remind us of the banality of psychological distress. Always just around the corner, it’s only what you make of it.

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Walter Maciel Gallery, 2642 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 839-1840, through Oct. 27. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.waltermacielgallery.com

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