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The Offbeaten Path 

Walk through the French Quarter and you notice lots of art galleries. Some are really stores, and some are more serious than others. Many cater to popular taste and appeal to impulse buyers with money, preferably surgeons or investment brokers in town for a professional conference with their spouses. There are also a few pretty serious galleries in the Quarter, as well as some that span the gap between thoughtful art and popular taste. And then on Chartres Street there is Taylor-Bercier, a gallery specializing in art that often seems improbably enigmatic if not downright quirky. The gallery especially favors smallish drawings, prints and collages that to many visitors might look like the work of hyper-meticulous weirdoes, miniaturists with the minds of serial killers or fetishists with a penchant for scissors and paste. It's an odd roster for an establishment in a neighborhood where a gallery's monthly rent often exceeds many New Orleanians' take home pay, and for that they should get some sort of Croix de Guerre, or whatever the award might be for unlikely aesthetic obsessions. The current show is a classic example of what might be called 'non-popular" art, and in that genre, Mark Hosford's drawings really take the cake.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Hosford hails from Kansas, but the realm he portrays is no Emerald City. No, this is more the sort of Kansas that L. Frank Baum might have concocted in collaboration with H.P. Lovecraft or the warped geniuses who gave us 1950s horror movies. Hosford gives us ingenue gothic, like warped children's stories featuring twisted kiddies in imponderable situations. In The Little Helper, a young girl clutching a grappling hook stands ready to help her dad as he adjusts the tail of a vaguely fetal and sluglike creature with the face of a child. While old dad is calm, his daughter quivers with apprehension even as her mom stands stoically cradling another slug-fetus-thing like a newborn babe. Ugh. Others feature monstrous, psychosexual beings tended by bedraggled young girl-waifs entangled in narratives too creepy to contemplate. No conventioneer is going to buy this for the parlor, but that may be what's good about it. It is all clearly the work of a revolting genius of sorts.

The rap on Gary Komarin is that he picked up where Philip Guston left off. Well, sort of. When Guston abandoned his classic abstraction for figuration, the result was a kind of Mr. Natural monumentalism, as if R. Crumb had downed the wrong medication and coughed up freaky nightmare visions of the Klan. But Guston looks like Van Eyck next to Komarin, who perfected the blasé look, as if someone started to paint but quickly gave it up, leaving the crude outlines of abandoned inspiration, something so banal it's kind of beautiful " imperfection as a Platonic penultimate. In Vessel, Avignon, some smears suggest an urn in a monochrome flashback to the Bad Painting movement of the 1970s that gave us Schnabel, Haring and Basquiat. Gary Komarin is its living afterimage.

But here, it is the work of Billy Renkl that provides the most obvious concession to the more traditional notions of beauty in found paper collages reminiscent of Joseph Cornell as well as Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine series. Alignment is a collage of old maps, sheet music and sky charts rendered as a makeshift blueprint of the music of the spheres. But Renkl's real talent is whimsy, as we see in Comet, an antique text painted over in blue lapis with gold-leaf stars framing a tiny engraving of a comet like a shooting star from the dusty recesses of cultural memory.

click to enlarge Mark Hosford's meticulously gothic drawings such as The Little Helper feature twisted kiddies in imponderable  and often revolting  situations.
  • Mark Hosford's meticulously gothic drawings such as The Little Helper feature twisted kiddies in imponderable and often revolting situations.
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