This is advice I followed myself. Play Joe Bonamassa’ s sicaliptico and über vertiginous Burning Hell in your iPod, stay awaked reading Bukowski’s poems —If you are as fortunate as me, a friend might have sent you Charles Bukowski’s At Terror Street and Agony Way, a double CD that allows you to hear his alcoholic-and-chain-smoker’s voice as a soundtrack… as you sip a beer—, or perhaps pick up Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf from your bookshelf… Whether you follow my advice or not, under any circumstance, avoid watching Estus Pirkle’s 1974’s cinematic version of the place of punishment, religious suffering and perpetual fire before viewing Sarmiento’s Burning in His Own Hell. For what you will find here is more real and hurting and in some way enjoyable than all that 70’s hell-for-dummies. Where you’ll go after death is less important than what clearly enliven your life. These earthly sins could save you if you satiate your own thirsty hells.
The moans of fiery, sinful souls on fire and their grinding teeth are by far, less scary than the living inferno where we along with Sarmiento are burning alive. Somehow, we feel sympathy for this devilish painter, for in his magic theatre of pain and redemption every painting and drawing is a window and every hole in the wall is a mirror in which the devil’s face reflect an uncanny resemblance of yourself. As a veiled, postmodern Dante, Sarmiento is an impersonator, an egocentric cicerone of many faces. His binnacle and compass could be yours if you are honest enough to accept that hell is in your head. What you see it’s not always what you get, however, what you get it’s what you deserve. He pretends to be the leading man but observe more deeply and you will be swiftly dragged into an abyss of changing roles.
Sarmiento’s Inferno is a personal belonging, an accessory, no different than a toothbrush or pantyhose, more of a kitchen than a hell. Intimate in such a great extend that will give you goose bumps arousing sexual obsessions as desire and lust and dissatisfactions perch on your back, eating you alive. Is there anything worst than that? I don’t think so.
Like heaven, hell is among us. We eat from hell and even enlighten our lives with its sort of dark illumination. Some may get singed, other just tanned. In the end it’s just a matter of perspective. This is the bottom line of Cuban-American artist Eduardo Sarmiento second show in Miami, just two years after his first exhibition Erotica (2008), at A. Dale Nally Studio.
But don’t get fooled. Sarmiento’s Inferno is not a pessimistic approach to hell as a metaphysical realm. Instead, he aims to reveal the dark side of man’s ordinary life: brimming with pleasure, counting emotional failures and fruitful conquests. It is a thought-provoking inner voyage in which the irreverent and scandalous artist proceeds to peel himself like an onion whilst finally encountering his bloody flesh. He’s the witness, the victim and the murder, the hooker and her pimp; and like Baudelaire and Bukowski a chaste lover and a pornographer: poetry and obscenity are the two halves of Sarmiento’s Paradise, since he bridges the antipodes. His painting The brutality of love or his drawings Portrait of a man in love with three women (the solitude of a faceless man like a condemned soul jumping trough a ring of fire) and All the beauty and the obscenity (a woman, or a “bitch” since she is giving birth to a dog or “a mad dog from hell”), remind us of the Bukowskian definition of love. Each work is a beautiful example of this duality.
Everything in Sarmiento’s work transpires in pairs, as a manifold of Manichean values. In The brutality of love, to mention one example, the devil gives a star to a “virgin” (a flying bunny girl) receiving in return a bonfire from her. Could the worship of Love find better retribution? Light and warmth, as metaphors of love… had he not had his heart broken beforehand, had he not surrendered at first sight exhibiting his inner foolish devil, exposed by the girl reclaiming submission, demanding total devotion. Paraphrasing Bukowski’s Ignus Fatuus: “Let it be known that a man need not to be Christ to be crucified.” Let it be known that he could indeed be a devil and still be crucified. Let it be known that the man can feel a passion and love and love and love “and still feel the pain.” “We were not clever enough.”
You will find the objects of desire and the desire itself surprisingly asexual, as the artist explore issues of identity. As the son-of-the-lesbian, the pussy hunter, the oxymoron, he is the man faithful to his unfaithfulness, a loveless lover. In his artwork love is also asexual. Portrait of my mother, her girlfriend & their dog is a conspicuous addendum to the closet theory. Exposing oneself has always been easier than bringing family’s taboos to the spotlight. In the Freudian labyrinth, showing off your dark side could be considered a brave and honest closet exit; yet, revealing dirty familial secrets no one talks about is practically treason to the memory of the blood. Save your solace though, Sarmiento skillful navigate his emotional baggage and approaches the subject with a vivid and flamboyant pride, even tenderness.
Still, keep in mind that the only difference between pain and paint is a letter T —perhaps a cup of tea? Once you have faced life in coexistence with plight and pain, it is recommended one take a brake, boil water and scrub the china so to speak. You can live in torture, rejoicing in the démodé ethical commandment of suffering to achieve, or just transform what is hurting you most in the raw material of enjoyment.
Sarmiento’s art neither encourages one to abandon the self to the fatuity of instant gratification or a pusillanimous life. Fight and enjoy, and die and revive in canvas, as in life, he seems to be telling us. His Hell-Heaven guide us to free our demons while still keep them in reins, to kill the mockingbird and yet still listen for the rest of our life to his innocent song.
Fairlawn, May 18, 2010