His Own Personal Jesus

Never before have birds, Christ and scrap metal fit together so…complementarily. Rene Strubel, Outsider Artist at Damien B. Contemporary Art Center brings together paintings and sculptures depicting morose scenes of destruction and mayhem and, unlike many of the self-absorbed artists showing in the Design District, Strubel’s work is introspective and real.

The first sculpture to stand out in the gallery, “Le Porteur d’Ailes,” (“The Bearer of Wings” in French), shows a man in sorrow, his face reminiscent of Munch’s “The Scream,” his arms, one of wood and one of metal pieces intricately placed together, his legs bound by twine, and his body leaning, as if giving in.

With the image analogous to The Terminator-esque notion of man versus machine, this bearer represents the struggle to break free of all that binds you and the morbid outcomes of when you just can’t do so. Strubel’s sculptures seem to be mimicking his own outlook on life, a man considered too dark for most art galleries.

On second thought, though, Strubel has nothing to really complain about. He’s a self-taught artist who, as a teenager, ran away to Paris and engulfed himself in the artistic bastion that is the city of lights. One can only believe that he, like any great thinker, had to take a few hits before conjuring up his work. How else does one explain why there are 11 different paintings of a hollow, petrified face and a bird?

Yes, my friends, we have a bird gouging out the eyes of the depressed soul in one painting, a bird pecking at the brain of another in a second painting and, finally, a bird perched above a cloud-engulfed face, as if to look its nose down at the confused visage in a third.

Surely, something’s not right for Strubel. Amidst the scrap metal sculptures wearing away at a fragile existence that seems to withstand the crazy birds doing damage to one’s brain are five different paintings of Christ. But not just any paintings: paintings of a Jesus built out of garden supplies, metal twine and wood.

These Jesus portrayals wear crowns of thorns built of nails and have huge red hearts that scare you into believing that they are actually beating. This is heavy shit.

Oddly enough, though, the pieces all mesh well together. There’s a certain fluidity to Strubel’s choice of elements and symbols in his work and thus a truth (alas, a dark one) emanates from this show as a whole. An existential human suffering lies within us all whether we are aware of it or not. Some are more conscious of this than others, such as Strubel, an outsider artist, whose work here displays something very real to face up to a somewhat plastic city.

Rene Strubel, Outsider Artist is on view at Damien B. Contemporary Art Center, 282 NW 36th St., Miami Design District, through November 25th. Call 305-573-4949 for more info.

Sarah Giusti can be reached at tthinkerr@aol.com