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Hero Worship

He calls them his "cop pictures."
Viewers might call them something else.
California artist Chris Hero is referring to a series of paintings -- graphic, large-scale oils -- that illustrate his vision of how police and other institutions of power affect the world in ways that vary drastically from their defined roles. The figurative works also attempt to secularize the structure of religious art and use it to portray sources and consequences of violence in the contemporary world.

Each painting in the "cops" series is based on an actual event, and that's where the audience reaction comes in. Are we ready for Nightsky Show, a re-creation of the view Hero had, from his bedroom window, of the Los Angeles Police Department response to a neighborhood gang war? Or C-section, which depicts a case of obstetric malpractice Hero witnessed while training as a paramedic?

If we're not, we should be, according to Hero. That's his point. "I address my work to an audience skilled in avoiding issues that could lead to personal discomfort or responsibility," Hero has written. "Modern art audiences have been 'trained' to see only the aesthetic of the image. This training can be sidestepped when the beauty of the object contains an ugliness -- a confrontational imagery -- to shock the viewer out of their conditioned response to art." Whoa.

Large assemblage pieces, or found-object collages, are also included in the show, which is on display at the Fine Arts Gallery at Broward Community College. But Hero, who will attend tonight's (Thursday) opening reception for his exhibition, is primarily a muralist. That accounts for the religious iconography that appears in his work.

Mural-scale narrative painting, he claims, was "perfected" in the Christian religious art of Western Europe and has since been lost. He intends to correct that. Art from the Catholic tradition of 500 years ago carried its message to all levels of the congregation, from the wealthy to the illiterate peasant, Hero contends. The public, an audience that often didn't even share a common language, was able to take from those religious paintings differing levels of understanding -- from simple aesthetic recognition to profound revelation. Hero believes that formula can be revived to address the largely secular issues and concerns of today.

Also addressed in Hero's series is the assassination of Jesuit priests at San Salvador University (Dead Jesuits) in El Salvador; the L.A. riot that occurred in association with the Rodney King case (Now We Can Make an Arrest); and capital punishment (Crucifixion). Be prepared.

-- John Ferri

The opening reception for the Chris Hero exhibition will be held tonight (Thursday) from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Fine Arts Gallery, Bldg. 3, Broward Community College, 3501 SW Davie Rd., Davie. Admission is free. The show continues through February 7. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 954-475-6517 for more information.

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John Ferri

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