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"Who is this man?"

This is what we kept asking after we had wandered into the Volakis Gallery, at the invitation of owner Emmanuel Volakis, to see the new show he has mounted of works by Oscar Bernal.

Those of us who wander into galleries in the valley know that 10 times out of 10, we'll see paintings of vines, of fog, of wine. This was a show of staggering beauty, power and intensity, painting after painting that combines a fascinating political vision with awesome precision of technique. The show is called "Titan Playing Poker with Francis Bacon and Other Themes."

That I had never heard of him doesn't portend much, but a Google search of his name yielded nothing.

"I first saw his works at the Vorpal Gallery," Volakis said. "It's an honor to have him here."

"It's hard to say who he is really," Nikki Lincoln, who works at Volakis, said. "I think he's from Mexico. He lives in Berkeley. He's been painting for 46 years. I tried to ask him more at the opening but I didn't learn much more."

An artist who prefers to let his art speak for itself.

Volakis did provide notes from Muldoon Elder, the owner of Vorpal Gallery:

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Elder writes, "I recently overheard someone trying to describe his paintings as by referring to them as a marriage between Velasquez and Francis Bacon. The description is a good start

" Oscar Bernal is a painter of enormous power and originality. The power of his paintings is not to be disputed. His originality may be challenged by his frequent use of historic (and sometimes insidious) personages and painters Velásquez, Francis Bacon, Carpaccio Caravaggio, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt Hitler and his henchmen, Torquemada and his fellow Spanish Inquisitors, the pope and his cardinals, Stalin and his gulags, George Washington and his cabinet and even George Bush and his handlers can sometimes be found lurking in the shadows of Bernal's paintings and drawings

"Oscar Bernal stands out as the unquestionably one of the great draftsmen of the millennium. His incisive line, mordant wit, and piercing revelations of the underbelly of mankind's true nature will never be forgotten by any eye directly exposed to his paintings and drawings. The ideas and representation he depicts cut to the quick and often make the timid viewer scurry for cover. But the honesty and unabashed inventive aesthetic of this super-talent bring back even the most timid eye to take a second look and being thus hooked, a further lifetime of hesitant but appreciative glances

" Is it his powerful use of lights and darks? His marvelous sensitivity to the blending of unimaginable color? The fluidity of his line? His blatant, trenchant insights into mankind's hidden vices? His brilliant and anachronistic juxtapositions of unexpected bedfellows? His overall power and skill in the technical mastery of painting and drawing? His respect and dynamic use of the great art that went before him? It is hard to say. But spend a few hours with his remarkable creations, and please let me know your thoughts; ultimately, he has me stumped."

The paintings of Oscar Bernal will be at the Volakis Gallery through July 13. The gallery is located at 6730 Washington St., Yountville. It's open Thursday, Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment. For more information call the gallery at 945-1125.

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