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Debugging the Pattern

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Patterning is the secret of the universe. Really. I got it from an unimpeachable source: the I Ching, which somewhere or other says, 'Continuity in the midst of change is the secret of the universe." Patterning, of course, is the secret of continuity. An art movement called Pattern and Design emerged as a potent counterpoint to minimalism in the 1970s, but this Gallery Bienvenu show features some far more recent approaches to patterning in works by three very different artists. Of them, New Orleans resident Teresa Cole is probably the best known as far as this city is concerned.

As a printmaker and instructor at Newcomb, Cole is known for largish relief and screen prints with delicately textured surfaces. Hanging unframed and unadorned, they suggest antique Asian rice-paper scrolls reborn as postmodern wall hangings. A recent trip to India seems to have been a catalyst of sorts, and if the work remains recognizably her own, some of the colors and spatial treatments are new and occasionally exotic. Her familiar baroque flourishes are now rendered in tones of saffron, curry and silver, but the Indian influence is more obvious in works like Mosquito Mandala I and II in which the vaguely Hindu patterning sets the stage for black silhouettes of decorously evil looking mosquitoes she choreographed into an oblong arrangement of interlocking forms. Nifty. Ancient Asian cultures sometimes viewed annoying insects and animals as emissaries of the nature spirits to which offerings were often made, and here Cole offers a token of her respect to the mosquito gods.

A Thousand Nights provides a more English looking take on black silhouettes in the form of boxers, moths, Muslim ladies in burqas, elephant trainers with whips and Victorian ingénues reminiscent of Alice pursuing a white rabbit through a looking glass. This Georgian and Victorian approach to imagery on a field of Indian patterning conveys oddly postcolonial overtones, intentional or not. Sea to Land employs similar black silhouettes in a composition that recalls Kara Walker's racially and sexually charged silhouette pieces minus the racial and sexual charge. All in all, this show suggests that Cole is on a roll, subtle though it may be.

Kathleen Loe is a Louisiana native active with various Colorado venues including the Anderson Ranch Art Center near Aspen. Rocky Mountain high or no, Loe is intrigued by Plaquemines Parish, marsh islands and helicopters, but with a twist. Several serene digital prints of coastal Plaquemines seascapes appear punctuated by what looks like 'hot pixels," those tiny errant flecks of intense color that can turn up in digital images. Look again, and they appear to have been painted in by hand. In Below Venice, the title of a print and a video, Loe notes that Venice, La., and Venice, Italy, are both sinking, yet remain 'powerful, even enchanted locations." Her prints flank a pair of helicopters precisely cut from window screen and superimposed so you see the outline of one behind the other like ghostly afterimages. Measuring 15 feet long, Loe says they are, 'like women designed for fluid transition from rescue to ruin, and are powerfully beautiful and versatile." Indeed. Somehow all this works with surprising eloquence.

From a distance, John Westmark's sweeping compositions can look a bit like renderings of Zaha Hadid's futuristic architectural projects, but closer examination reveals those precisely articulated forms to be paper sewing patterns with all the little cryptic marks and notations that accompany the architecture of couture. They also have a vintage aura about them that harks to Man Ray and the surrealists. Westmark says his compositions explore 'the metaphorical relationship between seemingly disparate ideas and materials. Industrial paper sewing patterns are the architecture for new interpretations outside of their usual, functional context " applied to the canvas, the patterns represent metaphysical images and mythological narratives." In these works, they also look good.

Teresa Cole explores the decorous side of insects in her large print, Mosquito Mandala.
  • Teresa Cole explores the decorous side of insects in her large print, Mosquito Mandala.

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