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Artist Creates Pantheon at Portland's Cock Gallery

By Andrew Belonsky

For artist Nicholas Rispoli, his latest show, 'Incarnate,' at The Cock Gallery in Portland, Oregon, is more than a collection of graphite and oil and water colors on paper. It's a pantheon, a new mythology created out of figures lifted from his what he describes as mystical and metaphysical dreams. There's the high priest and a temptress, a guardian and a piece called "self-assailant," a figure that waves at the viewer, and to Rispoli himself . "I am manifesting a mythology that is specifically derived from my own encounters with mystical and the metaphysical," he told me. And in his artist's statement, Rispoli writes, "There is a comfort in knowing that if I create this mythology and believe in it, it will appear beyond the flesh."

SLIDESHOW: 9 PIECES FROM NICHOLAS RISPOLI'S LATEST SHOW, 'INCARNATE'

Rispoli's fascination with the divine is derived from his childhood in Catholic household in Cleveland, Ohio. He was initially drawn to the religion and hoped to be devout, but grew disillusioned during his teenage years, as his sexuality began to take shape. "While I agreed with many of the core values the religion provided I eventually concluded that children should never have to experience losing sleep over the idea that they will burn in hell for being gay," he said. Ultimately he refused to suppress his desires for a church that claimed gays burned in hell. "For me it was all or nothing. If I was going to be Catholic I was to practice 100% but I could never be a hypocrite." Not only did he leave the church, he left Ohio and headed to Brooklyn, where he currently lives.

'Incarnate' is a departure from Rispoli's previous works not only in topic but style, too. His previous works, also on paper and sometimes in the form of massive clay sculptures, addressed universal themes like gender, sexuality, and love. In addition to being more personal and overtly spiritual — "This body of work is much more spiritually conscious of a higher power," he said. — 'Incarnate' has a distinctly Baroque air, one Rispoli chose both for aesthetic reasons and for the artistic movement's "formal purity," which he purposefully distorts with an injection of grotesque. "This interpretation provides a very nice, but uncomfortable tension in the work." He adds, "Ironically, Baroque art is often seen as a contributor to the revival of the Catholic Church."

'Incarnate' shows at The Cock Gallery through September 28th.

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