"Disquiet," an exhibition of paintings by the Newark, N.J.-based painter Eduardo Cunha in the Villa Maria College art gallery, has been extended through next Friday. A good thing, too, because the extra time will give art lovers a chance in the brief lull between holidays to see some of the strangest and most compelling work on view in any Western New York gallery.
Cunha's large-scale paintings of childhood memories mixed with grown-up dreams, feature expressionless figures in rustic surroundings. The figures in each painting are melancholic and expectant, their proportions and broad features slightly exaggerated so as to make them look doll-like and not quite real.
Cunha, according to curator and artist Adam Weekley, pulls his paintings out of reality and "picks and chooses what he's going to be realistic about and what he's not."
The majority of the paintings depict scenes drawn from Cunha's memories of a childhood spent in Portugal, where he lived for the first few years of his life before relocating to the United States. They have a nostalgic quality, but not in a sentimental way -- more like nostalgia for solitude rather than for an all-consuming happiness.
But Cunha's work, as Weekley has said, also constructs little open-ended narratives that can be great fun for viewers to fill in.
In "Fantoches," for instance, three pairs of feet peek out from behind a hanging blanket or tablecloth under a rocky brick wall and stucco ceiling. All three surfaces -- floor, wall and ceiling -- are conflated onto a single plain with no attempt to create three dimensions, which has the effect of making the entire painting seem displaced, like a memory or a dream. Think of the scene in "Inception," in which Paris folds in on itself in an impossible physics. It's the same feeling here, with the added mystery of who the people behind the blanket are, why they're hiding, and who might be trying to find them.
The same sense of remembered strangeness appears in "Father and Son," perhaps the strongest and certainly the most emotionally loaded painting in the show. It depicts a boy, presumably the artist, sitting at a table next to his father and staring straight out of the canvas. A pen sits on the table near the boy, and we can see the blue lines he has scribbled on the paper tablecloth. The pair just sits there, seeming to wait for a response from the viewer so that they can go on with their business. It's a beautiful, haunting work that opens up all sorts of doors for the imagination.
Two of Cunha's newer canvases, interiors rendered in his curious, childlike conflation of perspectives, are devoid of figures and feel just as disconnected and melancholic as those that include them. The show also contains three plaster figures of a boy, which have the same kind of not-quite-earthly proportions of his painted figures.
For this series of paintings, as quizzical and mysterious as they are inviting and accessible, "Disquiet" is the perfect title. Cunha's work invites viewers into his own history and memory, a realm that, despite its strangeness or maybe because of it, is a fine place to spend an hour.
"Eduardo Cunha: Disquiet"
WHEN: Through next Friday
WHERE: Villa Maria College Paul William Beltz Family Art Gallery
INFO: 896-0700 or www.villa.edu