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Fiber Optics 

It's all a matter of perspective — but what kind of perspective? Most of us think we know what we're looking at most of the time, but we're actually trained to see the world in what's called "single point" or "optical" perspective. It is well established that if you take a photograph of a landscape and show it to aboriginal people who have never been exposed to modern media, they won't know what they're looking at even if it's a picture of their own backyard. In fact, the random-seeming compositions of prehistoric cave paintings are actually closer to the way people saw prior to the camera obscura in the 15th century, so what we regard as "renaissance," or "single point," perspective is really optically conditioned perception. One could argue that we're a bunch of zombies who have been trained to see the world like roving cameras on legs.

With that in mind, it's not hard to understand why some Modernists might have wanted to start over from scratch, and artists have been starting over from scratch ever since. Argentine artist Jorge Sarsale stays focused on surface geometry in starkly graphic compositions that resemble paintings but are actually constructions cobbled from many delicately cut strips of lightweight paper attached to canvas. Area de Resonancia 4 is a square canvas with many little, multicolored rectangles arranged in slightly irregular rows like so many books on shelves. In tropical shades of canary, tangerine, burnt orange, ultraviolet and black, they vibrate like abstract, album-jacket graphics on 1950s modern jazz recordings.

In Area de Resonancia 2, similar rows of vertical paper strips appear in tones closer to pale cork or bamboo, a look that recalls those Japanese straw tatami mats — maybe a mystical tatami mat for a minimalist meditation.

Ecos de Otra Historia offers another approach, as tightly aligned strips of darker and lighter shades of gray suggest modernist architecture until you see the ethereal paper construction, and then it becomes Asian in effect all over again. All of this is set off by Eso, an installation of dark lines like assertive splotches of tar. Closer inspection reveals them to be strips of delicate, dark paper stuck to the wall like so many I-Ching hexagrams, a dialogue of order and chaos. The show, overall, is abstractly architectonic, but the ethereal texture of the paper lends a delicate, airy quality, a subtle breath of life.

The acrylic and resin paintings by Arturo Mallman at Bienvenu could not be more different. A New Mexico artist originally from Uruguay, Mallman is preoccupied with the horizon line, and his preferred approach is atmospheric rather than single-point perspective. Atmospheric perspective, called "sfumato" by Renaissance painters, refers to the way smoke or mist obscures distant objects while closer objects seem clearer, if still softly focused. Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is an example of subtle sfumato, but Mallman uses it to create an effect of distant people or foliage in a foggy landscape where the sun is just an eerie glow in the background. Sealed in a heavy layer of clear resin, his moody landscapes convey a sense of depth like images emerging in a crystal ball, or maybe the visions of existentialist saints.

New York artist Jim Napierala's acrylic- and aluminum-leaf paintings on wood return us to the realm of surface geometry, only here the painted forms are curvaceous traceries of color in compositions that suggest harlequinlike patterns of swirling motion. Although he says he's inspired by Byzantine icons, his San Expedito is actually an alternate name for St. Expedite, one of New Orleans' unofficial patron saints, and it's uncanny to picture St. Expedite as a kind of harlequin/whirling dervish of swirling forms in this crescent-shaped city, where even the most solemn procession becomes a dance somewhere along the way.

click to enlarge In Jim Napierala's painting San Expedito, one of New Orleans' patron saints appears as an abstract swirling dervish of curvaceous forms.
  • In Jim Napierala's painting San Expedito, one of New Orleans' patron saints appears as an abstract swirling dervish of curvaceous forms.
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