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Born to Run 

At first it resembles an incendiary hurricane, a high-velocity crimson holocaust devouring alien territory. Look again and there are hints of Asian calligraphy, baroque filigree, or maybe even meteorological cartography tracking the progress of firestorms on Mars. In fact, it's a big (68-by-99 1/2-inches) painting by Bulgaria-born New Orleans artist Iva Gueorguieva, and its title, Toward the Belly, offers few clues as to the artist's intent.

Can it be an allusion to the "fire in the belly" commonly called passion? Although reminiscent of Philip Guston's oddly hairy and kinetic abstract expressionist paintings of the 1950s, these works sometimes seem firmly rooted in surrealism, and anyone prone to hallucinations should approach them with caution. Still, there's a lot to look at here; the brushstrokes are deftly executed and aficionados of free association should have a field day.

In Retaliation of an Unnamed Single, you're flying low over an anonymous city at night. Countless tungsten, halogen and mercury vapor street and automobile lights envelope the flat, urban grid in an eerie glow, an aura that partially dissolves the inky darkness of the night sky. But again the title seems designed to throw you off the scent, like a Dadaist ploy to send the mind into random search mode, questing for the elusive connection. A closer look reveals fringes of what might be foliage or trees; move in closer and spectral humanoid forms populate the Pollock-like swarms of paint squiggles.

In the Great Grey Storm the Riders Slumped evokes an explosion at a confetti factory as myriad short, staccato brushstrokes, some actually gray, fill the canvas with a kinetic spray of acrylic splashes. The effect is amorphous if energetic and, as in most of these canvases, harks to vintage abstract expressionism with only veiled hints that it might be a postmodern comment on ab-ex. Pissy Missy also sounds personal (are the initials code for PMS?) yet resembles a maelstrom of gestural brush strokes in which body parts, limbs and telltale traces of fearsome facial expressions might become apparent to an imaginative forensic specialist. Ironically, it is Launching Decrepitus, one of the few with an impersonal-sounding title, that includes anything resembling fully formed human features, albeit in the form of mythic tree men in a surrealist forest primeval.

Gueorguieva says, "I have entitled this show ŒRun' because that term aptly encapsulates the human feelings that for me attend the events in the paintings. First, Œto run' denotes an act of rapid escape, or movement across space. The shortness of breath, the strong beating of one's heart, the pulsating heat emanating from the skin and the bubbling sweat forming in streams on the flesh are intense phenomena that accompany other extreme experiences as well. Š All of these senses of running are present within the paintings you see here. I felt them as I painted, and I painted them." Hmmm. Perhaps "passion" might be the operative term after all.

If that sounds slightly steamy from a cool, postmodern perspective, Jeffrey Pitt has nothing to fear. In his last show, Pitt's busy, spiky, almost graffiti-like patterns seemed to suggest eroded coastlines painted by Keith Haring, but in these Blue Period pieces the open spaces have largely been filled in. What gives? Pitt says his "intention with painting is to create images of a world of diverse cultures, beliefs and understandings by using line, shape, form, and positive and negative space to provide images that are entertaining and thought provoking for all people regardless of their cultural, geographic, or social history."

He also frames his pervasive use of blue in similarly cultural terms, yielding maniacal azure mazes against a whiter shade of pale. It's really a head trip, but look closely and you might see anything from tribal masks to something like cut-velvet Victorian paisley wallpaper gone horribly awry, depending on your state of mind. Engaging if claustrophobic, all suggest variations of horror vacuui, a dread of empty spaces. They also suggest diabolical labyrinths, like taking a wrong turn in Metairie and getting lost in cul de sacs leading into endless cul de sacs, ad infinitum. More than most, Pitt's latest efforts suggest obsession rechanneled as art, and what you see -- in your mind's eye -- is what you get.

click to enlarge Despite its unusually impersonal title, Iva Gueorguieva's Launching Decrepitus is also one of the few works in the show that remotely resembles fully formed human creatures -- such as they are.
  • Despite its unusually impersonal title, Iva Gueorguieva's Launching Decrepitus is also one of the few works in the show that remotely resembles fully formed human creatures -- such as they are.


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