Three exhibits intrigue at Reynolds Gallery. 

Snap, Crackle, Pop

My grandmother likes jigsaw puzzles. To me, they are a mindless waste of time. For her, though, puzzles are an adventure in memorization, color studies, form recognition, random juxtapositions, and ultimately the satisfaction of a coherent, unified composition.

Al Souza might concur. His "Puzzle Paintings," currently on display downstairs at the Reynolds Gallery, also explore chance groupings, color and shape manipulation, coagulation of discrete forms, and even a nod to kitsch and American consumerism.

The artist's seven puzzle paintings are not paintings at all, but thousands of puzzle pieces glued to wood panels and hung to imitate paintings. Like other Pop artists, Souza appropriates lowbrow objects from mass culture and transforms them into ironic statements with dazzling visceral effects.

Perusing thrift shops and garage sales, the artist buys puzzles (the cheesier the better, it seems) and carefully uses completed sections of these puzzles that were returned to the box intact by the previous owner. This study in chance is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, but like Pollock, there is more control and intervention by the artist than the superficial spontaneity purports.

The Reynolds show exhibits four of Souza's large puzzle composites and three smaller ones. Despite the randomness of his thrift-store purchases, Souza finds themes within the jigsaw oeuvre and groups them together accordingly. "Pell Mell," for example, is a large panel with layers upon layers of puzzle pieces of famous artworks. By attempting to focus on sections of these writhing planes of color and patterns, one can discern a snippet of Renoir, Van Gogh, Leger and Miro works. Here, Souza has effectively managed to place fine art back in its original context. From a high creation of the artist to its descent into kitsch as a puzzle and back, full circle, as fine art, albeit distorted, the artist has achieved a balance of sorts between high and low, chance and order, and wit and candor.

By overlapping random, yet controlled images borrowed from, as the Whitney catalogue describes, "the dustbin of popular culture," Souza is able to offer bedazzling eye candy that stealthily carries strange, even subliminal, meanings. I'm not sure why, but I think my grandmother would approve.

It is a bit incongruous to call Donald Crow a folk artist, given the well-stocked pantry of cerebral reasoning and art-world experience that is the cumulative intellectual property of this respected artist, but that is the categorization that comes to mind when looking at Crow's works on paper.

Perhaps it is because his many works, which hang like calendar pages on the walls of both upstairs rooms at Reynolds Gallery, propose the unassuming disregard for immortality that folk artists tend to share. Immediacy is the principal thing in these blithe and instinctive painted collages. They are hobgoblins and haunts among art products: airy and evanescent, playful and guileful, elastic. Like folk art they are expressions of unseen dynamism with the recognition of enchantment inherent in the commonplace. And generally like folk art, they appear to be made and displayed with the materials at hand.

While Crow may have slipped in a few premium papers from the art supply store, he has painted his constructions spontaneously with tempera, woven them hastily, stapled them into self-frames and hung them unapologetically from found pieces of wire and cord. But, unlike folk art, their single focused message — elucidated a hundred ways — is the informed quest for the expressive exuberance and energetic purpose of color against contrast. The collages' method of conveyance suggests the navigator does not give a whit for the bothers of decor beyond that. The fact that they hang like calendars further defends their ephemeral conclusion. Revelation is a thing that none can domesticate. It is a loaner from time itself.

Sharing the gallery space with Don Crow are 11 remarkable "Sculptural Chairs" facing to and fro like costumed attendees at an eccentric social. Some assume the erect pose of the serious and the virtuous, such as Maurice Beane's two high-backed creations, although a couple — made by Noel and Ed Szado — have been tarted up a bit with some red Ultrasuede against their righteous brushed stainless steel structure. Ron Puckett's stalwart, no-nonsense planar throne to the practical man who loves big hardware sits on the diagonal from Jack Larimore's wood and fabric "Folia Chair". It is an opulent and somewhat erotic vixen of a furnishing with materials that enfold and reveal flirtatiously. Then just to get your back-to- nature, there is Bill Suworoff's modern environmentalist spin on the Adirondack twig chair. Fred Crist's "Kirili Chair" of forged steel suggests an unknown and somewhat fantastic creature's backbone, flattened to comfortably accommodate a human back; it seems the most alien of all the chair-icatures. This once-a-year collection of functional items for the home seems to have become a Reynolds tradition. Last year it was table designs. However, this year's chair assortment is especially imaginative and inviting. Go in and set a spell.


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