It's almost like a tango. The human race goes back and forth with nature in an almost bipolar, manic-depressive manner. First, we try to overwhelm it with commerce and industry, clear-cutting, poisoning and developing it into some bland, malled-over Wal-Mart Gotterdammerung, then we turn around and try to preserve whatever is left of it. We're clever that way, and artists increasingly are commenting on this age-old struggle in their work, of late.
For Pam Longobardi, it's all rather relative. In many of the Atlanta-based artist's mixed-media creations, sheets of copper are stained or otherwise marked with various paints, processes and chemicals. Supported on wooden frames, her often oval-shaped concoctions rely on time and exposure to achieve their final effects. In Webbed, a variety of flowers, spider webs and murky amoeboid forms seem to blossom forth from an oval copper panel. The composition suggests the view you get when peering into a swamp, or those pools of water that accumulate all over town when it rains, morphing into strange new ecosystems that reflect the world around them rather strangely before finally burning off into an oblivion of dust and debris until the next cloudburst. Throw in birds, flowers and mushrooms, all rendered in a brightly colorful style that harks to her medical illustrator past, and her stuff can suggest a Disney take on Baudelaire, a Fantasia cum Fleurs Du Mal remix. Much of this is also oddly baroque, but of a wavy, crypto-psychedelic variety.
Following Language Into the Forest of the Unknown (for Terence M.) is a 6-foot-tall oval of oil paint, enamel and collaged images on copper, and it does evoke a terra incognita as recessive patches of amorphous murk appear punctuated by many jolly little mushrooms. (If one wonders whether the Terence M. in the title might be the late Terence McKenna, the famous mushroom aficionado, Longobardi tells us that indeed it is.) And here the intentional and the seemingly random meld into a kind of parallel universe where copper and its attributes become the matrix for Longobardi's own natural order, a world where entropic oxidation is a force for creation as well as dissolution. It can all seem rather amorphous, as odd bits of brightly colored flora and fauna appear to float in a swampy melange of oxidation and pigmentation that parallel the nebulousness of the human psyche, for instance, in the shifting boundaries of our dreams. Here, Longobardi deals with the interplay of nature and what the Greeks called techne, the manipulation of natural forces for humanity's own purposes, in works that offer a view through a looking glass into a world between the worlds where nature and artifice exist in a kind of counterpoint, perhaps even dialogue.
In Al Souza's picture-puzzle collages at Arthur Roger, there is nothing subtle or recessive. Au contraire, their bright colors beam out at you like those evil, blinding, laser-like killer rays that pass for headlights on certain late-model cars these days. And if "wild" nature does deign to make a cameo appearance, rest assured that it has been edited, vetted or digitalized -- if not sliced, diced and desiccated into instant frozen pizza already.
Sea World, a big, circular, close-up view of exotic fish, corals and various undersea creatures, comes closest to nature in the raw. But it's a collage of partially assembled picture-puzzle segments, of views like you see on sea documentary TV shows, only here all the images are scrambled into crazy-quilt patterns unlike anything Jacques Cousteau ever encountered (unless maybe somebody put something funny in his Pernod).
Razzmatazz is a big circular mandala of brilliantly bright lines and patterns, a pastiche of weird rays, polka dots and CAD art schema in techno LED colors, and it's almost as if Escher and Brigit Riley had dropped acid and collaborated. And Looney Toons lives up to its name, with old Warner Brothers cartoon characters arranged in dizzying overlapping sequences. Using picture puzzles is a cute twist; their wavy patterns and overlapping layers provide for a certain textural intrigue, while their middle-American themes make them a perfect foil for pop art collage -- a genre in which Souza comes across as both innovator and classicist.
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This detail of Pam Longobardi's Following Language Into the Forest of the Unknown (for Terence M.) shows the intentional and seemingly random melding together.