Wayne Gonzales is one of the more interesting artists working in New York today. Although his reputation has grown steadily over years of exhibitions at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Manhattan — and his work also appears in the collections of the Whitney, Guggenheim and Hirschhorn museums — his current New Orleans Museum of Art expo is his first museum solo show in the United States. Why here? Although he has been more of a presence in the New York and London art scenes, Gonzales is a New Orleans native who grew up in the 9th Ward and Arabi and graduated from UNO. Born in 1957, his early years were influenced by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent investigation by then district attorney Jim Garrison, in part because his extended family overlapped with some of its colorful cast of characters. News photos from the period inspired some of his earlier paintings, but today he is better known for monochromatic canvases of crowd scenes that read like grainy blow-ups of news photos.
Gonzales has used computers to shape his imagery since the early 1990s, and in emblematic works like Seated Crowd (pictured), the shadowy forms of the spectators evoke those low-resolution digital images that devolve into muddy contours when enlarged. Seen from a distance, their abstract blurs come together to radiate the eerie unpredictability for which crowds have been known since the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome. Here we sense the muted, if potentially explosive, emotions of the public spectacle as experienced at football games and political rallies, in images as ambiguous as Rorschach blots and just as open to interpretation. Rigolets is a coastal scene rendered in yellow and green halftone dots like a vastly enlarged newspaper photo, and it may elicit memories of happy days in fishing camps, or perhaps Jayne Mansfield's gruesome death on that same stretch of road. Gonzales is a virtuoso visual poet who employs mass media imagery to personalize the hopes, fears and eerie uncertainties that characterize American life in the early 21st century. — D. Eric Bookhardt