The Boston Globe

De Campos observes life from the lap

By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent

You can't get much closer than being in someone's lap, and Nuno de Campos brings us to just that place in comforting and disturbing ways in his paintings and drawings at the Clifford-Smith Gallery.

The exhibit begins with two egg tempera paintings from his ''Lap'' series, depicting a woman's lap. We see only her seated torso, in a floral dress, and her bare arms. The female figure has no sexual charge, yet celebrates femininity in its curves and the details of skin tone.

De Campos is Portuguese, and has traveled Europe drawing sculptures; his pleasure in portraying volume and in the iconographic content of the female figure shines in these paintings. We stay in the woman's lap in the other works in the show, drawings made more recently than the paintings. There are three sets of three drawings; in each set, the woman holds an object.

The titles give the works a sexual edge: ''Knife,'' ''Single,'' and ''Rub.'' The objects the woman holds are inevitably fetishized; she offers them to the viewer laden with hidden meaning. We still can't see her face, so what she holds against her boldly patterned dress is our best clue to who she is. ''Knife,'' in which the woman handles a pocketknife, is a traditional graphite drawing on white paper. ''Single,'' featuring a Jacques Brel album blocking the woman's face from view, has been drawn with charcoal and white chalk on blue paper. ''Rub,'' focusing on a small jar of Vicks Vapo-Rub, is in charcoal and white chalk on red.

De Campos highlights with white and shades with charcoal on colored paper; the colored middle ground mediates between dark and light. It feels more intimate - indeed, more threatening - than the graphite-on-white drawings, where black is black and white is white and it's all clearly delineated and expected. By giving us these contrasting works, de Campos demonstrates how we see and assign meaning. He's a dextrous and insightful artist.

The Boston Globe - April 19, 2001