Neither the exhibition text nor the online imagery, although both generous, adequately primed me for Rafael Delacruz’s spellbinding painting exhibition at Mitchell-Innes & Nash. The moment I stepped into the gallery, I was engulfed in a world with vibrant enigmatic narratives, layered as a fusion of drawing, lino-cut-like marks, and a kaleidoscope of restless patterns, all shimmering under the play of vivid paint. The paintings reveal recognizable elements like cars or figures while hiding drawings underneath, daring us to embark on a delightful game of artistic hide and seek. In some canvases Rafael Delacruz, who is a self-taught painter, uses Cochineal, a vibrant natural dye extracted from a cactus-devouring parasite. With a storied cultural history of adorning the capes of Catholic clergy and the coats of English soldiers, Cochineal seems to assume a prominent role in Delacruz’s artistic alchemy. Through tireless experimentation, the artist has ingeniously transmuted the dye into a paint medium.
I hesitated to give a good friend of mine the big five, but, on the other hand, he's the best painter I know and this is easily the best painting show I've ever seen by an artist of my generation. I've seen a few comparably impressive shows of historical collections, but great historical art is a reaction to a past moment that we can appreciate with hindsight. There's an impressive disorientation to the work, a sort of formlessness that comes from a total, confident faith in process an instinct instead of the vagueness of uncertainty, which more often than not results in an overreliance on form. By not using compositional armatures, the paintings become all the more perfectly composed for their resistance to easy ways out and a sensitivity to each painting as a discrete thing. A friend said to me at the opening that he's blown painting wide open, and I think that's true. I also think that's the highest compliment that can be paid to a painter.