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Review: Jeremy Willis at Du Mois Gallery

D. Eric Bookhardt gets uncomfortable with Jeremy Willis' new paintings -- but it's a good thing

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This show is really kind of gross. I had never heard of Jeremy Willis, but his flamboyant paintings are in boisterously bad taste. I like them a lot. It takes talent to make such eloquently stomach-churning work, and Willis has a flair for revisiting pop art, expressionism and the Leipzig School in canvases that take no prisoners but rather colorfully squeeze the vital essences, and possibly body fluids, out of his subjects. So who, or what, is Willis? It turns out he is an Uptown New Orleans native who ended up in Brooklyn by way of Amherst, Mass. and Providence, R.I. His paintings blend something of Willem de Kooning's manic early 1950s images of women with Francis Bacon's lushly Hannibal Lecter-esque renderings of dislocated, if vividly hued, body parts. But Willis is to those polished icons of painterly virtuosity what Sid Vicious was to the London Philharmonic: pretty raw. Even so, if his brush strokes were as crude as they seem, none of this would work, and we would be left confronting a muddle, so it is to Willis' credit that his paintings confront us instead; you wouldn't want to run into one in a dark alley. That Vicious-meets-Bacon sensibility appears in Tears (pictured), an oozing maelstrom of quivering primary colors featuring smeared crimson lips and white teeth ricocheting off a double vision of a female head — one yellow, one green — in full meltdown, and it's all quite repellent if morbidly fascinating. The aptly titled F—k Off Creep is a latter-day expressionist nightclub scene, a cool inferno of mauve, cobalt and yellow featuring two women and a guy, a blabbering paragon of attitude seated at a table. Here, everything is reduced to its visceral essence of discomfited flesh, queasy colors and dislocated auras, a visual parable of civilization's decline as it is reenacted daily in a million minor ways. In this show, Willis takes those quotidian human gestures and makes them intriguing. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through Nov. 5

Fear is a Man's Best Friend: Paintings by Jeremy Willis

Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032; www.dumoisgallery.com

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