Rico Lebrun came to America as a commercial artist in 1924 after training at both the Naples Academy of Fine Arts and a Neapolitan stained-glass factory. He worked commercially in Pittsburgh and New York for several years, then returned to Italy in the early thirties. There, he studied the frescoes of Signorelli and developed his talent enough to win two successive Guggenheim grants when he returned to the United States in 1936. He claims that the Italian wall painters are still the greatest influence on his work.
Lebrun has called California his home since 1936, but has taught at Yale and the Art Students' League of New York, as well as UCLA. He has given major exhibits in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto. He has won greatest acclaim for a series of paintings on "The Crucifixion."
In his drawings at the Mirski Gallery, Lebrun's massive, thick-loined human figures, often headless and otherwise distorted, alternately embrace and support each other. They seem to battle against the grasp of the deep shadows which model their limbs and torsos. The prevailing mood is Dantesque. Lebrun's style adapts excellently to his bat-winged "Lucifer" and to several smaller drawings for the "Inferno," but seems out-of-place when applied to "Two Dancers."
Figures carrying each other appear repeatedly. A large drawing entitled simply "Climbing Figures" shows one man hauling another up a vertical ladder. The bottom figure is bent nearly double. The top one, heavier, also leans forward, bracing his arms on the other's shoulders. The steepness of the ladder intensifies the impression of strain.
Lebrun's figures are simple in the sense that they avoid detail and scrupulous realism, but they lack technical economy. Superfluous lines preclude maximum effects of weight and power, as well as any real linear grace. Despite the artist's great predilection and proven talent for drawing, he has conceived these figures in sculptural terms and consequently his line is most effective when he uses it to suggest volumes. When he uses line seemingly for its own sake, the results are less fortunate.
Lebrun's emphasis on weight and power makes the almost classical grace of his women on the right of "Two Figures Happening" all the more remarkable. The figure on the left displays typically massive thighs and a heavy torso inclined forward. The right-hand figure is powerful but much lighter. She twists toward her companion and her left arm, bent at the elbow, is thrown across her face. There is grace but not freedom. Both figures really seem to be "happening," to be struggling free of the surrounding darkness. Even in a classical motif Lebrun preserves the heaving of his visceral world.