Paul Sydorenko and his cat Cha-Cha were born around the same time in the mid 1970’
    s, growing up together in rural Wadsworth, Ohio. The white feline used up his allotment
    of lives around the same time his human sidekick went on to study marine biology as a
    freshman at Ohio University. But over the past few years he’s been granted a new sort
    of half-life in two dimensions, as a character adding an upbeat element to many of
    Sydorenko’s often pessimistic, scientifically-minded paintings.
         In the show “Totem,” currently on view at William Rupnik Gallery, Cha-Cha is a
    simply drawn cartoon avatar, exploring the fragments of a poisoned and disintegrating
    world, planting banners proclaiming spiritual values; one says “Soul”; another is
    emblazoned with the Japanese character meaning “Tiger.” Sydorenko’s allegorical
    landscapes sample mountains and cities, round clouds and barren trees, summing up
    the planet. Schematic renderings or clear, caricature-like outlines carry much of the
    message here, drawn on top of drippy, colorful enamel washes that evoke chemical
    pollution. In “Sick” tall buildings perch on clumps of rock and earth, while revolting pink
    liquids splooge out as if from pipes; very ill-looking fish, rendered in a sketchy style, float
    in a larger, looser dimension, appearing to gag. Then there’s a weeping, sagging bear,
    a patch of colorful graffiti-like marks, and a number of small, orderly green circles,
    reminiscent of a circuit-board. Other symbolic elements present in several paintings,
    including a  compass with directional points and a diagram of DNA, expand Sydorenko’s
    vocabulary, speaking in broad terms of structure, mapping, and the power of the human
    mind to find, or sometimes lose, its way.
         It’s important that there are no people in these works. They’re a human-free zone
    which, though imprinted with the damage of real-world industrial and technological
    mayhem, is essentially an imaginary animal planet. Near the door of Rupnik Gallery the
    title of the show is briefly defined. “Totem: noun. a natural object or animal believed by a
    particular society to have spiritual significance and be adopted by it as a spiritual
    emblem.”  Sydorenko follows his totems into spiritual battle. Whether the hero of these
    non-narrative vignettes is Cha-Cha, or an anonymous pink bunny which also makes
    frequent appearances, the crux of the story depends on the survival of child-like delight,
    triumphing at least in the imagination. On the gallery windowsills several small troupes of
    pastel-tinted miniature plastic cats and bunnies made by the artist seem to mill around
    like student protesters, carrying signs with single words that might combine to mean
    something, or nothing: sleep, doom, bum, bless. Every battle needs its foot soldiers.
    Meanwhile the cat, mounted on the back of an owl in a paint on panel image across the
    room, swoops toward the viewer, away from a stand of leafless, ghostly trees, his paws
    spread wide. In one he holds a flag that says “hope”, and in the other two flowers, like a
White Birch 2010
Paul Sydorenko
Animal Planet
Paul Sydorenko and his imaginary friends