It's a small world

Santiago De Paoli is slight, with the perfect, vaguely melancholy features of a French New Wave film star.

Born in Buenos Aires, De Paoli studied biology at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. But the work was difficult, too difficult for something he should love. So he made a radical change. In 2000, De Paoli began studying art at the Atlanta College of Art.

He has since been included in the 2005 Biennial at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and a project curated by Harrell Fletcher for the 2004 Whitney Biennial in New York. The New York Times called his drawings "sweet and unassuming."

It's not hard to see evidence of his previous scientific interests in De Paoli's work. In drawing after drawing, he creates worlds of sign and language, as if he is an anthropologist studying that strange race of creatures, homo sapiens. His stick-figure people have the thick black limbs of cave paintings. Their communications are depicted in thought bubbles over their heads.

The idea for the figures came to him after a class at ACA called "Peace Makers and Justice Seekers," though there was probably a politicized streak to De Paoli's thinking after growing up in South America, with its history of ideological upheaval.

"I started becoming aware of that broader picture, not my close surroundings, but the injustice and inequities in general," he says.

De Paoli's recent work is laced with references to the World Trade Organization, American imperialism and environmental destruction. The thought bubbles over the stick figures' heads express animosity, confusion and racism.

At first glance, the work can seem spectacularly grim.

But there is a battle between hope and horror being waged in his work. In one painting, his figures fall off the face of a clock that looks very much like a planet. But in a twinned image, they ring the clock's round circumference, magically balancing on its surface.

De Paoli draws a world of interconnection, with a potential for harmony. Much of the work taps into the global, cosmic sense of being human - and the feeling that we are all components in a larger system.


Next Wave profiles Atlanta's emerging young artists. Santiago De Paoli's work appears through June 4 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means St. 404-688-1970. www.thecontemporary.org.??

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