Salvador Bru is a quite uneven painter, as his current large show at Nye Gomez amply demonstrates, and he can be uneven within a painting as well as from painting to painting.
At his best, as with "Aquelarre," Bru combines surrealist imagery that really means something with lyrical passages of abstract painting that can be beautiful all by themselves. His work combines aspects of surrealism and gestural abstract expressionism.
As in other works, "Aquelarre" has its references to earlier art, especially from his native Spain -- in this case to a painting by Goya. But it has its psychological level, too: the strange-looking creatures that inhabit this shallow space are blindly trying to connect, like bits and pieces of a life that want to add up to a coherent whole but can't quite manage it.
Here, Bru's work is disciplined, multifaceted, and rewards a slow passage of the eye across the canvas,taking in details, as well as a study of the whole image. At the other end of the size spectrum from this 9-foot-long diptych, but in its own way equally successful, is "Certain Chinese Encyclopedia (n)" in which the divided black and gray field and the part-biomorphic, part-futuristic object on it are so well painted that the entire image is both mysterious and seductive.
At his least successful, as with the paint and pastel "The French Kiss," Bru can combine uninteresting facture with silly imagery. More usual are paintings which may be obviously ambitious in scale and program but which don't hang together as completely resolved works.
The largest painting in the show is one such. "The Infanta Dona Margarita," inspired by a Velasquez painting, is dominated by the figure's enormous skirt on which are a series of symbols that make a variety of references -- to Spain, to Picasso, to religion. Here again we also have psychological reference -- to what goes on under the facade of the individual. It's an interesting painting that has its flaws -- breasts from which flow blue "blood" (isn't that a bit hackneyed?) and a black shape that looks almost cartoonish, clashing with the somber mood of the whole.
This painting has spawned a series on the same subject, of which the best is "The Infanta Dona Margarita and the Future," brought to life by its marvelous reds and its lovely passage of pure painting near the bottom center.
In "The Golden Airplane" the artist achieves a felicitous contrast with the flash of color at the center which only serves to emphasize the dark mood of the rest. "Athanor (Alchemists' Oven)," another major effort, has fine moments and here and there looks reminiscent of Miro, but finally it doesn't add up.
From this show as a whole, one receives the impression that Bru is a very good painter, and that he has fine ideas, but that in implementing them he too often abandons a painting before it's all it could be and goes on to something else. Bru can be really satisfying when one has the sense that he has fought things all the way through and lived up to his potential.
Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 14.
Call: (410) 752-2080.