“Finishes That Stand The Test” thrives on absence, absence postmarked with what must have been a hasty departure, hasty because the birds painted on the wall are all a-flutter, describing crazy trajectories, crashing into walls. It’s as if one moment there was a person or a family, with their bikes, tables, clothes, food and drink and the next moment, there wasn’t. Food rots in the fridge, a birthday cake melts, a bike rusts, and paint peels on a table while it’s wood warps. No explanation can be gleaned for the sudden departure, it just happened.
Framed watercolors meld into the bleached gallery walls, and the walls blend into the sky that contains the errant birds. The overall sense of the exhibition suggests the final scene from the R.I.P. sitcom “Six Feet Under” in which everything fades to white. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the show even more diminished, more tentative and fragile were I to visit it a few weeks hence. Nor would I be surprised to find it even more lovely, lovely as a desiccated rose pressed in a book, as everything that made the scenario man-made gives way to Time (that’s time with a capital T, Shakespeare time, chronological and fatalistic), and begins another life, the life with people.
The alpha and the omega of the show are two beer bottles that appear both as watercolors and as sculptures enshrined in what look like outhouses. Commemorating the passage of time, their labels depict a baby and a geezer, the symbols for New Year’s (the baby in diapers, the old man with the scythe): in with the old, out with the new. When it happens often enough, the baby becomes the geezer and so begins the cycle anew. There’s a watercolor of a birthday cake – celebration, progression of Time. The cake has seven layers. Again, Shakespeare, the seven ages of man: “They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”
As per the title, the show’s about time, time as judge, jury, and executioner (and, I hasten to add, the ultimate art critic). Things ripen over time (and they disintegrate), things become classics over time (or get exposed over posterity for the lies they are). The show investigates and luxuriates over surfaces and patinas (the marvelous play on the word finishes) that stand the test of Time.
The show’s first – and last – impression is that the world carries on just fine without us, thank you, and will continue to do so until Kingdom Come. Licari nicely captures this edgy ephemerality of this endless cycle of regeneration with lines that bristle like electricity as well as the barely-there medium of watercolor. The compositions are sketchy as in fragile, tentative, and uncertain (even his name on the wall is done in an unsteady freehand, as if his identity – and ours – is a suspect, un-tenuous commodity).
The overall look of the show feels like Ralph Steadman illustrated Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic story, “The Road.” There’s nothing there, no teakettle whistling, no laundry flapping on the line, just silence, sepulchral silence, infinite white, and man-made things in various stages of desuetude and decomposition by forces biological and meteorological. The space’s sparseness is the visual equivalent of white noise.
Best of all, Licari has managed to find beauty in all this. Who the hell tends those poppies in the desert to which we flock each spring?