Angelo Filomeno

New York

at Lelong

Angelo Filomeno attributes the prominence of death in his work to life experience—the early loss of both his parents. He also draws on historical precedents (they are abundant in art) and has found his own way to the sublime by combining repulsion and beauty. Showing in New York for the last decade, he has accrued a rogue’s gallery of motifs. In this exhibition (most works from 2010), his favored skulls and insects appeared alongside masks and other symbolic imagery, all in sensuous or luxurious materials, including silk, polished glass, faceted quartz, hematite, crystals and leather. The grotesque becomes attractive via controlled, refined techniques. Dream of Flies (yellow) and Dream of Flies (yellow, black), two 90-inch-square wall works made of pieced silk shantung that feature medallions of concentric circles in a range of yellows, greens and blacks, have small, finely embroidered images of cockroaches at their centers. Each medallion, distinguished by astute color choices that suggest transparent layering, evokes a flower, the sun or a mandala.

For By the Side of the Last Ocean Ready for Sunset, Filomeno worked in 2008-09 with technicians at Pilchuk Glass School, near Seattle, to create an array of objects for placement on an elegant 20-foot-long black table. The centerpiece is a vase with a flame-shaped stopper; the rest is less banquetlike. Referring, according to press materials, to the Seven Deadly Sins are a number of skulls, some with horns emerging from their eye sockets, some with fangs or talons on their necks, others with a silvery-metallic finish and one with a lobster crawling on its forehead. (The lobster also appears in embroideries, perhaps alluding to the tarot, in which it signifies cycles, or to heraldry, where it indicates tenaciousness, or to its favored status among the Surrealists, or maybe just for its sheer bug-ugliness.) There are three leather whips, each ending with a glittery black pendant, and a neat row of instruments for torture. (They might be medieval, or out of a Goth video game, or borrowed from the Bush administration.)

Three other silk shantung works, about 9 by 4 feet each, offer side and frontal views of a Laughing Philosopher. This decomposing head with bulging eyes, sharp teeth and wispy hair resembles a traditional Japanese horror figure. Shiny yellow embroidery floss on black silk fantastically depicts his dissolving flesh. On a pedestal by itself, a 3-foot-high leather-surfaced sculpture called Rapture of the Skin, meanwhile, looks Egyptian or Mesopotamian: a bull god with horns where eyes should be, sitting on a wooden base that has seductive curves recalling shoulders and a throat. In day-of-the-week embroideries called Days of Pain (2009), black thread on black burlap combines the horns and fangs seen elsewhere for a tribal-mask effect.

The burlap and leather have a warm tactility; everything else in the show is distinctly cool. The craft that Filomeno foregrounds in all these beautifully made works conveys the thought that acts of skill resist death’s chill.

Photo: Detail of Angelo Filomeno’s Laughing Philosopher (frontal), 2010, embroidery on silk shantung on linen, 100 by 51 inches overall; at Lelong.