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Santiago De Paoli: World party

Solo show looks for a new way

Santiago De Paoli's solo show at Swan Coach House Gallery envisions a "New Society."

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But everything old is new again in De Paoli's paintings. His watercolors and drawings for The New Society are loaded with references to the past. It is an elastic, far-ranging past, too, with allusions to cave paintings and primitive mysticism or the more recent past of political propaganda and 1960s poster art.

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The artist sets out the terms of his show early on with a tongue-in-cheek summation of the New Society:

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"Holding hands and sharing food are the basic concepts made available in the exhibition.

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"Other themes included in the new society are: go to school, shower daily and eat healthy; this Summer will be a good one. See y'all soon!"

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Despite the perky bromides, De Paoli's New Society is a dark riff on the kind of utopias promised by messianic politicians and religious gurus. If only, his deceptively poisoned tone suggests, a perfect world were as easy as fresh laundry, deodorized armpits and a tummy full of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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In one picture-window-sized painting, the snarky "Schooled" features three figures of different hues holding hands across a landscape dominated by a Maoist yellow rising sun and visual motifs suggesting East and West. In his purposefully folk art style, De Paoli mixes up allusions to propaganda art and the kind of upbeat murals found ornamenting public buildings. But the one enduring idea in De Paoli's work is the pictogram as a variously clear and sometimes vague source of meaning.

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How we interpret and make sense of our world through visual cues seems the crux of De Paoli's work. The work evokes the ideas of Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter and father of abstraction who also used abstract shape and color as communicative tools.

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De Paoli is a feisty, tongue-in-cheek conceptualist in the Kandinsky tradition with a biting wit and an ability to sample from an expansive visual vocabulary while deftly adding his own twist. Though The New Society can often feel hyperambitious in its scope and techniques, it signals an intriguing direction and justified selection of De Paoli as winner of the Forward Arts Foundation's Emerging Artist Award.

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The New Society: Works by Santiago De Paoli. Through Aug. 4. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive. 404-266-2636. www.swancoachhouse.com.



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