Visual Arts - Generation Gap

Romo Gallery in Castleberry Hill has tended to gravitate toward edgy conceptual art done by artists in their 20s and 30s. But owner Sam Romo departs from that generational grid in his small survey of works by Philip Morsberger, a 72-year-old artist whose work has a youthful, winsome touch.

Morsberger's spry quality may derive from his source imagery. The artist draws from the image bank of his own childhood in the '30s and '40s, when the adventures of Krazy Kat and the Katzenjammer Kids commanded the funny papers. Morsberger inserts his disc-eyed men in fedoras and turtles rendered in the dusty blue of surgical gloves into a painterly fracas of fat, colorful brush strokes.

Removed from their perch in the four-panel newspaper comic, Morsberger's endearing cartoon folk look a little disoriented and fragile. The strategy of relocating his sweet-faced, simply drawn cartoon people onto his canvases gives the work a bittersweet quality when juxtaposed with their cheery colors. His men and women perform ambiguous hand gestures. Taken out of their narrative context, such gestures suggest paralysis and confusion, like a plumber loaded down with tools, but not a leaky faucet or overflowing toilet in sight. Their disorientation suggests the sensation, even with age, of being a child plopped into the quagmire of adulthood.

In an especially poignant, emotionally weighty work, "Fathers and Sons," a man holds on his lap his long-limbed son well past the age of cuddling. Both father and son hold their hands in an odd, unnatural way, as if about to grab hold of something, but hesitating. The scene suggests a male hesitancy to demonstrate affection. The discomfort of the father and son is amplified by the onlookers who surround them and wear variously amused and leering expressions. Morsberger tends to fill his canvases with activity — multiple faces and activities — as in his human parade "Ultimate Questions" that suggests life's melting pot. But his people tend not to connect or communicate, each looking off in a different direction, engrossed in their own actions. There is a sense of activity and energy in Morsberger's mad color palette of festive golds, grapefruit yellows and matador reds. But at these paintings' heart is an uneasy calm and a jubilation inhibited by reality.

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