St. Joseph was a biblical figure, but to New Orleans' large Sicilian community he's the saint whose intercession saved Sicily from famine, so all those St. Joseph's Day altars elaborately festooned with food illustrate how historic icons can be adapted to particular times and places. Chris Guarisco's new paintings provide a more localized interpretation. In his big St. Joseph in Dreads (pictured) canvas, a dusky Joseph appears in a cornucopialike altar of fruit, pastries and colored lights as he holds baby Jesus bearing a platter of hotcakes. In Renaissance paintings, saints often have light rays radiating from their heads, but here it is radiant dreadlocks, depicting what amounts to a hallucinatory multicultural epiphany — a saint to whom we all can relate. The metaphor is extended in works like Italian American Parade, another cornucopia of food, flowers, saints and angels in shimmering psychedelic profusion. All of this is rendered in fat swatches of pigment copiously applied in muffuletta-like layers. After a long absence, Guarisco has outdone himself.
Two other masters of iconic profusion have paintings on view at The Front. James Esber once staged a show of multiple renderings of Osama bin Laden in which the jihadist resembled a demonic biblical prophet cooked alive in a microwave. But everything Brooklyn-based Esber and partner Jane Fine paint deploys this sort of wavy-gravy, over-the-top representation, like a visual echo chamber of resonant distortions that evoke the way mass media slices and dices anything and everything in its digital meat grinder, transforming reality into a kind of electronic mulch. Like Guarisco, Esber and Fine follow a pixelated gingerbread trail to some elusive truth only they can see, and then share slices of it with the rest of us as miraculous forensic evidence. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT