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Between the Lines 

Someday someone should do an investigative story on the secret history of grids in the art world. Long shunned as the antithesis of the humanistic renaissance tradition, or even the humanistic modernist tradition for that matter, grids have surfaced in a big way over the past couple of decades. Much of this has to do with postmodernism, which has sometimes striven to appear scientific. After all, as a series of perpendicular and parallel lines that can transform any surface into a system of measurement, what could be more Cartesian, or scientific, than a grid?

But this is New Orleans, where science as a style statement has never quite caught on, and where grids appear more often in waffles and plaid skirts than they do in galleries. Even our streets twist the usual grid pattern of other cities into a kind of chaotic semicircular vortex, and now the Grid show at Arthur Roger may require equally whimsical interpretations on the part of the viewer. These are Louisiana grids, after all, and this is a very organic state.

Although ethnically Cuban, Luis Cruz Azaceta aptly expresses the local approach to Cartesian grids in Joy Ride in Green. A kind of maze of wildly meandering lines snaking through a field of lurid green and pink, Joy Ride evokes an orgy of mating earthworms, signs of space alien activity in the Amazon, or an aerial view of New Orleans traffic patterns -- take your pick. And then there's Douglas Bourgeois, whose Patchwork is as grid-like as a country quilt or a box of chocolates. Shunning straight lines, Bourgeois clusters his meticulously painted men, women, insects, beans, dragonflies, birds and throat lozenges with gnarly wooden twigs -- actually, painted depictions thereof -- rendered with his usual precision and lush coloring. The result is taxonomic yet not scientific, a folksy collection of prized keepsakes. Similarly, the late Ida Kohlmeyer, a prominent local modernist, favored a grid-like ordering of her semiabstract forms, seen here in Synthesis 9-81, yet their organic shapes and tasty colors suggest a well-ordered kitchen more than anything coolly cerebral.

In the past, Francis Pavy's paintings had always been steamy, filled with tropical plants, spectral eyes, electric guitars, hot babes and innuendo. Some such things still exist in his Migrating Flock Pattern Series, only now instead of comprising decorously psychedelic abstractions they appear in a series of 100 uniform 5-inch wooden squares. If Pavy's earlier works sometimes seemed almost simplistic, Migrating Flock is more complex, a mosaic of flags and musical clefts, hearts and skulls, snakes, fish hooks and spirals beaming symbolic innuendo like so many atmospheric omens.

Less uniform yet still grid-like is Jacqueline Bishop's series of 29 painted birds and insects. Realistically rendered on wooden rectangles whimsically embellished with found objects, the birds sometimes appear enmeshed in vines or back-lit by the red glow of the fires that plague the Amazon rainforests, which inspire much of Bishop's imagery. Insects, numbered and collectively titled Dark Organism, appear in black ink on collages of text from Brazilian newspapers. The result is very textural and multi-layered, harking to romanticism and surrealism as well as to postmodernism, without actually exemplifying of any of them.

Yet postmodernism is not wholly absent. Dan Tague's Quadrants (Mapping Logic) is a simple grid of four squares, each bisected by right-angled patterns of thin blue lines, yielding a minimal sort of high-tech circuitry effect. But Tague meticulously cut those thin lines from loose-leaf paper, lending an obsessive human touch to the cool mechanical facade. Similarly, John Davis's Media IV, a pastiche of page layouts with columns of text punctuated by curving electronic circuits, fuses the mystique of mechanical reproduction with the mystique of things hand crafted: the columns of text are laboriously whited out, lending the whole thing a nihilistic edge.

Davis and Tague are UNO grads and part of that school's tradition of postmodern abstraction harking back to an earlier UNO grad, Peter Halley, who went on to pioneer the neo-geo movement in New York in the mid-1980s. A classic Halley now hangs down the street at the Stern's Optical Optimism show, which reflects the stark New York variety of postmodernism; even the most laboriously hand-crafted objects look as if they were stamped out by robots in a high-tech factory. The work may be from the Big Apple, but there's nothing organic in sight.


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