“Encrusted” doesn’t even begin to describe Raúl de Nieves’ sculptures and mosaics at Freedman Fitzpatrick. His impish figures and bombastically bedazzled wall pieces are entirely composed of shiny, brightly colored plastic beads. They bring to mind the work of Liza Lou (who has beaded just about everything), but follow their own fantastic logic. The figures seem to be actors in a fairy tale of de Nieves’ own devising, or cartoon characters in some mysterious psychodrama.
Entering the gallery painted a deep, purplish red, one is greeted by six small figures, each about 3 feet high. They are a bit like Teletubbies or Power Rangers, each with its own dominant color: red, green, yellow, pink, purple and blue. Some are wrapped in snake-like coils; one has wings. All extend their arms in exuberant greeting. All wear disco-fabulous platform shoes. They look like cheerful, glittery sprites, eager to accompany us on a journey.
Behind them, in the corner, is a larger, more sinister figure, whose blue face is also beaded, but whose body is composed of light brown fabric tassels, forming a shaggy, hairy mass. This figure, titled “Psychopomp,” appears to be rising nightmarishly out of the ground from a ring of stones. Perhaps this is the evil witch or the hoary oracle we must confront.
On the walls around this tableau are four large mosaics, each titled after a season. These are impressively detailed, combining swirling flower and plant imagery with more abstract motifs, but each one features a different face. “Winter” includes a witch, “Spring” a simian visage; “Summer” features a woman who looks a little like Disney’s Snow White, while “Autumn” proffers a red devil. It’s not clear how or if these relate to the figures on the floor, but their clear, crystalline colors evoke the fabled atmosphere of stained glass windows, lending some wonder to the proceedings.
Also on view are three charcoal drawings of clowns, more sketchy and gestural than the encrusted works. Thematically they make sense within the carnivalesque atmosphere, but are so different in style and palette that they feel like interruptions. (Also, if you are afraid of creepy clowns, consider yourself warned.)
Still, there’s something playful, whimsical and candy-coated about this show. Its sheer excess is beguiling, transporting us temporarily into another world where we are accompanied by an intrepid crew of fantastical little friends, about to have an adventure.