An exhibition of Alexander Shundi’s paintings, poetry and collages can be seen for the next three months at the Moviehouse Studio Gallery in Millerton. In a lecture a few years ago, Shundi referred to himself an agente provocatore – meaning a person who incites or encourages others to break the law so that they can be arrested. Much of Shundi’s work is indeed provocative.
Shundi was born in Italy where he lived until 1957 when he moved with his family to the United States. With a BFA and MFA from Yale University, Shundi continued his studies at a number of institutions including the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He later spent several summers racing "off the road" vehicles in international rallies throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is currently professor of Art History and Drawing at the New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan.
The major part of the Moviehouse exhibition is comprised of large oil paintings many on irregularly shaped canvases. Dense tangles of brilliant almost psychedelic colors cover every inch of the surface leaving the viewer little room to catch their breath. Closer examination reveals recognizable elements some of which are quite disturbing if not sinister, as perhaps Shundi in his role as agente provocatore intends. Body parts including rather suspect organs, limbs, teeth and eyes, images from mythology, strange sea creatures and snakes form a mystical and somewhat sinister phantasmagoria.
The brilliant blue diamond-shaped “The Tenth Muse” depicts Pegasus as a grey horse with black wings. Instead of in the sky where one would expect to find the flying horse, Shundi has placed him beneath the sea. In the upper left a creature with hair made from the tentacles of an octopus exchanges its breath with the horse to enable it to survive underwater. In the upper right, a pair of hands holds what might be a heart from which emanate streams of light that become the tails of the divers who swim around the horse.
Smaller works on paper refer to poems Shundi has composed in English as well as Italian. As Shundi says his “collages/poems are conceived to explore a synergy between expression in spoken-written language, and reactions to visual images… one may serve as a key to decipher the other, and vice versa…Exploring the emotional links between poetry and painting is like picking two different flowers from the same field to form a bouquet, each beautifully paired, complimenting one another other in scent and aesthetics.”
Each of these works is executed in colored pencil and collage with the poems handwritten in script that winds sinuously throughout the works or in some cases forms a border.
Elegant script which forms the border of “Pegasus While in Darkness” reads:
Darkness of rage, darkness of flesh,
Calming and fresh, mystical crèche,
Offering frightful, mysterious objectives,
Subjective protection from bland bright perspectives….
The head and the hind legs and rump of a winged horse can be seen in the upper left and lower right corners while pairs of electric blue swallows swirl between them. The long tail of a kite forms a double helix that extends across the center of the work and ends in an explosion of stars.