JTF (just the facts): A total of 68 black and white photographs, mounted and unframed, and hung edge to edge along the white walls of the back gallery space. All of the works are archival Piezography pigment prints, made between 2007 and 2018. Physical sizes are either 8×10, 12×12, of 11×14 inches (or the reverse), and all of the prints are available in editions of 5+1AP. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: The earliest photograph in Victor Cobo’s show at ClampArt captures the interior of a very dingy bedroom. The sheets are greasy and rumpled, the walls are stained and cracked, and the room feels exhausted and only temporarily empty. On the wall, in black marker, an anonymous commentator has scrawled “Love?”, making us wonder about whether this room is a venue for quick couplings, and if so, whether the seekers found what they were looking for.
Cobo’s photographs consistently linger in these kinds of shadowy margins, documenting a haunting swirl of largely nocturnal moments that defy easy explanation. Like the seductively gritty observations of Anders Petersen and Daido Moriyama, his expressive high contrast pictures push light into dark corners, exposing movements that edge toward the surreal.
Most of Cobo’s images find a vein of uneasiness that throbs with heightened levels of simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Disembodied legs dangle from hedges and emerge from behind beds, chandeliers and crystals support a mood of over-the-top excess, and solitary figures emerge from the woods with glowing eyes like zombies. Cinematic references to Hitchcock and Kubrick add another layer of mystery, from lips pushed against a shower curtain to creepy masked figures (often the artist himself) that hide in plain sight. Even the animals seem to be possessed by spirits, the eyes of park squirrels, feral stray cats, and snarling dogs all shining with eerie intent.
Passion, in all its messy, uncategorizable forms, stands at the center of Cobo’s work. The intimacy of a whiskered kiss is matched by performative”rock star” sex on a couch, a woman in a lonely window is balanced by the intensity of a sweaty heavy metal crowd, and fetishes of seemingly all kinds are indulged, accepted, and enjoyed, from wrapped mummification to dominatrix whipping and scolding. The installation of the pictures as one continuous stream-of-consciousness ties all these heightened moments into one ecstatic flow: cocaine on the table, rats on the street, the showiness of drag performances, spooky sky views, a woman with black paint dripping from her eyes, a puff of smoke and leftover feathers on stage, and dollar bills surrounding Jesus, all wrapped into a darkly pulsing fever dream.
Cobo’s expressive use of bright light (in the setting of darkness) is his most notable stylistic device. Flares of light turn raindrops and snowfalls into glittering spots, wash out faces to pure whiteness, slash through urban canyons, and explode from the center of bodies and landscapes like angelic energy. Dappled and pattered light (likely from clubs and dance floors) becomes a kind of enveloping environment of its own, the circles transforming and decorating faces and bodies. And Cobo’s long exposures encourage the light expand to into frenetic squiggles that thump in the air. When the light is more muted, Cobo lets it set a more melancholy mood, the glow of a TV, a motel sign, or an apartment window providing a muted refrain amidst all the charged emotions.
Images of nocturnal excesses and marginal characters can often fall into a familiar set of tired visual clichés, and even though Cobo’s photographs naturally follow some of those same paths, they feel fresh and lively. Instead of being observations, Cobo’s pictures are vividly present and engaged, the emotions actually felt rather than watched from afar. Their edgy overload amplifies incidental strangeness into something more, the experience walking the knife edge between dream and nightmare.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $1000, $1200, or $1400 each, based on size. Cobo’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.