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Order and Chaos 

In case you hadn't noticed, we live in a disorderly universe. Not necessarily drunk, but definitely disorderly. Well, what do you expect from a place that began with a Big Bang. As if the original Adam and Eve story weren't messy enough, science came along and made things even messier by insisting that the universe began with a noisy ballistic fit. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? But it also explains a lot. After all, as soon as things seem to be going smoothly for a change, what happens? Uh-huh -- something goes bang, crunch or bump in the night. And all hell breaks loose.

But artists already knew that. Painter Roberto Ortiz has remarked that "what we think of as being stable or permanent is constantly changing," and has consequently titled his new series of paintings In Flux in order to reflect, as he puts it, "the changes I see in the world around me." Even so, anyone familiar with Ortiz will note that the most obvious changes are in the paintings themselves. This is by far his most abstract and non-objective work in recent memory.

The Quantum Field is emblematic, a series of disks, spheres and circles, spiraling eddies and orbital trajectories resulting in something that's part Kandinsky, part Space Odyssey. His earlier stuff often held suggestions of spooky deserts radiating mystical or sci-fi innuendo, but here similar sensibilities exist on a macro or micro plane, perhaps extraterrestrial or perhaps subatomic. Similarly, Descent suggests strangeness in the ionosphere as a hole in the sky gives way to a portentous spiral. Swirling out of the clouds to orbit around it are several cubes. Considering the unknown scale, they could be sugar cubes, unmarked dice, or maybe those giant granite blocks used in Mayan or Egyptian pyramids. And if that sounds like a stretch, Ortiz puts it across with sly suggestions of DeChirico's metaphysical period.

Other works veer off in unexpected directions, including some composed largely of squares and rectangles. But Bridge of Sighs melds rectangular forms with circles and arches in a composition suggestive of ethereal architecture, a gothic cathedral of sea fog. Even more surprising are some drip paintings that might initially suggest Jackson Pollock, but only initially. Dance of Chaos III is composed of serpentine black-and-white drips and squiggles that almost seem to tango with some red splatters on a yellow field. Despite the drippy associations with abstract expressionism, or action painting, they are really more akin to the "biomorphic abstraction" of the Spanish surrealist Miro. Ortiz is clearly experimenting with a number of new directions, and while much of the show looks as transitional as that sounds, there are some nicely realized canvases in the mix.

Sharing gallery space with Ortiz are the sculptural works of Ashley Hope Carlisle. Like Ortiz, Carlisle is a New Orleans native, but unlike Ortiz she is still a Big Easy expat, having recently received her MFA from the University of Georgia. Her Internal Features sculpture series deals with some of the built-in contrasts that typify living organisms. Yet rather than offering specific examples, her pieces only hint at things familiar or recognizable.

Support System is a cluster of amorphous ovoid forms with long tentacle-like strands dangling to the floor. Initially reminiscent of squid or jellyfish, they also hint at surgically removed organs or even pathogenic organisms. Cradle suggests a coil spring or rib cage curled in a fetal position with a smooth wooden pole inserted through loops at either end. Inside, fluffy fibrous strands convey the softness of a nest, a device Carlisle repeats throughout the show with hard outer surfaces and soft innards in concoctions that hark to surreal anatomies, old-time science fiction and the mutant biology of pod people. And, in fact, Sugar Cage, a gaping pale ovoid that resembles a vastly oversized vegetable pod, suggests an alien organism that fell to Earth, hatched and got away. Yet the fundamental constants of earthly life are present throughout: the alternating dichotomies of hard and soft, the shell that contains the conch or crab, the rib cage that contains the lungs, the skull that contains the brain, and so forth, making this a meditation on vulnerability and its defenses, the ongoing dance of evolution that characterizes life on Earth.

click to enlarge The orbiting cubes of Roberto Ortiz's Descent - toy with the viewer's sense of scale.
  • The orbiting cubes of Roberto Ortiz's Descent toy with the viewer's sense of scale.
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