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Animal Magnetism

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It takes nerve to base a painting show on Desire in America. It's such a huge topic -- where do you start? It's everywhere, yet so ubiquitous it's amorphous. Here we are a vast superpower that is totally consumed with the idea of consumption -- and not just any old consumption, but conspicuous consumption -- plasma TVs, Lazy Boy recliners and SUVs out the ... not to mention all the other cravings for fame, fortune, glamour, fast food, slow aging, big houses, small waistlines, you name it, America is the land of insatiable demand. We want it all, and we want it now.

Traditionally, the word "desire" connotes sexual longings, but it's more insidious than that. Karl Marx, so off the mark on so many things, really did nail it when he called the marketing of consumer products a "commodity fetish." Just turn on the TV and look at all the stuff ad agencies try to make sexy -- everything from deodorant to adult diapers. This glossy world of commodity fetishism is the subject of Elizabeth Fox's painterly meditations on contemporary America, home of the jaded. It's a loaded topic, but she approaches it with sophistication and insouciance, as participant and observer -- imagine Voltaire as a contemporary woman from suburbia.

Below the surface, there are layers of male-female psychological intrigue as well. Rendered with precise detail in neo-na•ve compositions, her women are tapered, stylized, manicured Barbie babes that slink around an eroticized limbo that is part shopping mall, part Twilight Zone. In Pink Fedora, a blonde in a micro-miniskirt and ultra-high heels vamps past a Fellini version of Meyer the Hatter. She presses her pouty face, like a West Metairie Brigitte Bardot, against her pet Chihuahua while a Neapolitan-looking dude slyly observes her slinkily syncopated passage, and here you have it all: timeless gender intrigue, the commodification of allure and the allure of commodification, not to mention the discreet charm of Chihuahuas.

Some are much simpler. Back to Paradise evokes Eden, only this Eve is a blonde under a lemon tree, maybe in one of those Plaquemines citrus groves. Here she is coiffed and made up like a Cosmo fashion plate rendered with Renaissance precision, as if Botticelli had trained as a cosmetologist. Her face is a mŽlange of amicable smugness mingled with insecurity. A material girl mask by Revlon in a creation scene brought to you by L'Oreal, it could launch a million TV ads. More intrigue appears in Boxing Italian Style. Here a girlie girl demurely slurps an ice cream cone as her pugilistic boy toy taunts her with a boxing glove. As loaded with symbolism as a Brocato's cannoli is with calories, this one's a classic in which everyone flaunts everything as the dance of attraction and aversion, consumption and dysfunction, continues ad infinitum. With her odd interweaving of apparent opposites, Fox walks a fine line, simultaneously celebrating and caricaturing American pop culture.

Even more psychological and far stranger are the paintings of Baton Rouge artist Kelli Scott Kelley. Inspired by her young son's children's books, Kelley employs animal symbolism in surreal situations crackling with gender innuendo like twisted fairy tales. As in strange, otherworldly dreams, nothing is quite as it ordinarily seems. For instance, The Pasture depicts a figure with a youthful human body and the dual heads of a Siamese-twin calf, as actual cows meander in the background. She approaches them with a milk pail, but on her chest, instead of human breasts, is a bovine udder with exposed, um, how to say ... cow teats. Very creepy, but it also inspires rumination on where the animal realm ends and humanity begins, always a touchy question. In the Forest features a plump, voluptuous female nude with elk horns sprouting from her head. She dances with a male elk who has a middle-age spread and human, um ... parts, and all this poses questions such as how she ended up with his horns on her head, but some things may be better left unsaid. What we see is enough, and with Kelley enough is quite enough, yet it's rather thought provoking if you don't mind all that disorientation along the way.

Elizabeth Fox's painting,  Boxing Italian Style, - explores attraction and aversion within America's culture of - conspicuous consumption.
  • Elizabeth Fox's painting, Boxing Italian Style, explores attraction and aversion within America's culture of conspicuous consumption.

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