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Primordial Colors 

Much has been made of the seemingly cataclysmic qualities of Iva Gueorguieva's paintings, typically large compositions that meld the abstract and the visionary, as well as beauty and catharsis, in improbable proportions. Alien yet familiar in appearance, they represent a through-the-looking-glass world of elemental forces in kinetic clashes, a space where all things are supercharged yet oddly tentative. Enigmatic to the max, her work presents the viewer with a riddle as we wonder how such apparent chaos can sometimes seem so seductive.

Not that you'd want to live there, but a Gueorguieva canvas can be an intriguing place to visit. She has a way with paint and a facile flair for draftsmanship that give her best paintings a shimmering quality that almost borders on the hypnotic. Others are just weird. Both traits are on display here. Launching Decrepitus, a 68- by 99-inch canvas, lives up to its name. Despite initially suggesting a totally abstract tableau, it quickly turns hallucinogenic as tall, abstruse forms start to resemble mythic tree men with human heads atop arboreal trunks and branches. Towering over a ravaged landscape they stand in stark, spiny, stave-studded rubble that on second glance appears riddled with shadowy figures whose furtive forms are camouflaged in the crosshatching.

Vespers Pageant is more typical, a rhapsodic Gueorguieva romp of swirling colors and forms seemingly spinning around and clashing like banshees on some other planet — or maybe freeform filaments of energy swooping through the ether just before the universe was born. This lends itself to no end of speculation.

Calliope may be more of a sanity or sobriety test, at least for the uninitiated. Once again, all hell seems to be breaking loose in some unknown realm where things are just familiar enough to not be reassuring. Indeed, amid the vortex of swirling hues, lush juicy stripes, streaks and filigrees of color, a near-figurative form seems to be arising like Baron Samedi, a darkly dapper gent in a top hat who is the voodoo spirit of the graveyard. The maddening thing is that he isn't really there — try to look right at him and he vanishes — but he reappears in the corners of your eyes when you look away. Apparently he's only suggested by the ambiguous but firmly drawn elements. I have no idea what she meant for us to see, and this may be like those science fiction stories such as Andrei Tarkovsky's classic film Solaris, where people in an alien realm see only what they are predisposed to see. Amid all the madness, there are patches of painting that in isolation are stunningly lush, lending an aesthetic elegance to work that often harks to the surrealist origins of abstract expressionism, to Dorothea Tanning and especially to the Chilean visionary Roberto Matta. Here Gueorguieva takes such mysteries into a new millennium. A native of Sofia, Bulgaria, and a former New Orleanian, she now lives in California.

John Patrick Salisbury, a native of California, now lives just outside New Orleans, where he migrated by way of New York. An abstract painter with a contemplative style, Salisbury deftly delineates drips, squiggles and colorful filigrees of paint on Chinese birch panels that appear suspended in a pellucid golden patina created by many layers of transparent polyurethane, giving them a dreamy aura somewhere between Joan Miro and the Zen painters of the Edo period. At once lucid and opaque, they remind me of antique Chinese lacquer boxes, of curiosity cabinets constrained to two dimensions in a realm where depth is merely an illusion. Elegant yet baffling, Salisbury relates them to coursing atoms, coalescing cells, nanoparticles, string theory and "organisms that dwell in water, from rain puddles to the deepest, blackest sea." They are, he says, "frozen in time, fused like prehistoric creatures in amber."

click to enlarge Calliope, like many of Iva Gueorguieva's paintings, reflects a melding of opposites like abstraction and figuration in unexpected new combinations.
  • Calliope, like many of Iva Gueorguieva's paintings, reflects a melding of opposites like abstraction and figuration in unexpected new combinations.


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