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Looking East 

There is something mysterious about Jordan Ivanov's abstract paintings at Bienvenu, something cursive yet in some ways chimerical. In fact, "chimera," the root word for "chimerical," is an especially apt term because, while it usually refers to things fanciful, imaginary or not quite what they seem, it originated in the colorful bestiaries of antiquity. In classical mythology, a chimera was a fire-breathing she monster, part goat, part serpent and part lion, and that actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that Ivanov is, among other things, a master artist at Mardi Gras World -- a place where chimeras are all in a day's work.

Be that as it may, the world of Ivanov's paintings is nothing like Mardi Gras. The Bulgaria-born artist's cool, sleekly abstract canvases pulsate with lyrical energy beneath their deceptively opulent facades. His graphical designs floating in atmospheres of cobalt or crimson initially suggest abstract illusionism of a rather decorative sort, a result, perhaps, of his fondness for rich, metallic pigments and high-calorie colors. Close up, however, they hint at something more like concealed messages, codes or information with a secret life of their own. This is especially evident in two 10 by 10-inch paintings, Midnight Tale I and Midnight Tale II. Suggesting ultraviolet light crystallized into solid color, they are punctuated with crimson flares, blood-colored drips and patches of coarse, painted fabric in seemingly calligraphic configurations. No great surprise, perhaps, considering that the Glagolitic alphabet used by much of Eastern Europe since the 8th century has been one of Ivanov's recurring sources of inspiration. Derived from Slavic runes, its letters have been called "marks that speak," but the eerily floating form in Midnight Tale II suggests both an alphabetical notation and something more mythic if not downright spooky.

And this is a major difference between Ivanov and other local abstract illusionists such as Richard Johnson, whose lush colors and floating forms hark to the pop cultural landscape of jazz, neon and mass media. Ivanov, by contrast, is a modernist whose work evokes ancient European memories, folklore and symbolism with an Eastern accent. So how does he explain himself? In language as elliptical as his imagery, Ivanov says he would like his paintings "to touch the innermost parts of the soul, to pull the most sensitive strings and establish harmony within one's true individuality," adding that he also hopes to "show the layered patina of memory yet to happen, and future events missed or forgotten." Nothing if not cryptic, his words, like his images, are chimerical and loaded with veiled mysteries lurking just below the surface.

Meanwhile at Moxy Studios on Magazine Street, Geza Brunow's Ghosts, Oracles and the Beauty of Decay holds sway. A painter born in Berlin of Yugoslav parentage, Brunow moved to New Orleans in 1999 because "there was magic in the air." His ghosts and decadent beauty are apparently part of the magic, and Brunow translates such impressions into colorfully wistful paintings. Most appear decorative and a little amorphous at first glance, but not everything is entirely as it seems. Vessel of the Ancients is a loosely painted and rather impressionistic view of what looks like an antique pot. Cracked about the rim and featuring some mottled floral designs, it has clearly seen better days, but it also has a vaguely sinister vibe. It seems that, when turned upside down, the vessel becomes a skull, albeit one that has apparently also seen better days. Chrysalis is a richly-hued painting of flowers, apartment buildings, houses and picket fences, all disproportionate to each other and floating in a florid nimbus like something Marc Chagall might have dreamed up after a couple of Pimm's Cups at the Napoleon House. While the larger paintings are loose, woozy and vaguely hallucinatory, his ink and watercolor images of local houses reveal a linear precision that is no less whimsical. Created from memory while evacuated, they infuse local Victorian shotgun architecture with hints of ancient Belgrade, Balkan villages and other points East in a mythic architecture of the mind -- a local neighborhood where Creole goes global.

click to enlarge Influenced by the ancient Slavic alphabet among other - mysteries, Jordan Ivanov's  Midnight Tale II  - suggests calligraphy with a spooky, secret life of its own.
  • Influenced by the ancient Slavic alphabet among other mysteries, Jordan Ivanov's Midnight Tale II suggests calligraphy with a spooky, secret life of its own.
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