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Tin Men and Others

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Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, I came across the word "teratology." Actually, (with all due apologies to Poe and his Raven), I was neither weak nor weary -- just wary -- as I perused my overflowing folder of art show invitations and press releases. According to Webster, "teratology" refers to the study of "malformations, monstrosities or serious deviations from the normal," so starting with some lines purloined from Poe may not be all that out of place here after all.

It's an apt title for any collection or exhibition of John Greco's work, since the gothic comes naturally to him. Indeed, he seems blessed with a dusky touch, a deftness with animal bones, copper, dead flowers and mysteriously malevolent-looking medical devices. Put them all together and you have a show that lives up to its name. But what is this stuff, and what is he up to? By day, a mild-mannered metalsmith at a local manufacturer of gaslight fixtures, Greco in his free time gives rein to his teratological instincts in Hyde-like fashion, as nutria skulls, decomposing bird carcasses and dried blooms meet forceps, hemostats and Lilliputian syringe-like things, all obsessively arranged in neat sarcophagi. (Well, they look like little sarcophagi, but with glass fronts instead of masonry.) Many are etched with diabolical instrument designs as well as ornamental phrases and filigree. But not all.

Cuckoo's Nest is more like a little pagoda or kiosk, open on all sides and housing a pigeon in a Spanish moss nest. But the bird is dead, a featherless, eyeless corpse preserved in a flask of formaldehyde, its beak open as if in a silent shriek. Cute. La Aldaba Pequena del la Puerta de Satanas (which means something like the little doorknocker of the demons) features the skull of a large rodent with a metal ring just below its long front teeth, and some dried hibiscus at its crown like a feathery floral aurora. And El Hombre Loco is similar, only with a small primate skull with the cranial plate and tiny antlers of a very small deer grafted on.

Resting in a bed of dead leaves and vines, a snail shell in its eye socket lends the look of a miniature mad scientist turned to fossil long ago by some cataclysmic mishap. And if Greco does indeed employ found objects, the relatively fine craftsmanship of his custom copper cabinetry takes these pieces out of the usual realm of what we commonly call "assemblage," and places them in another kind of mixed media category of sculpture. More theatrical than deep, they reflect the age-old fascination with the dark and dreamy, those quaint and curious gothic yearnings of yore -- or even now -- and perhaps, to paraphrase the Raven, forever more.

Hommage to Ste. Anne is Ersy Schwartz' parade of bronze and wood miniature figures and floats, some arranged en masse to evoke the Mardi Gras marching parade that serves as its namesake. Others, variants of those designs, are presented individually atop stark white pedestals in the rear chamber. The little floats, and the figures that ride atop or alongside them, are very much in the spirit of the actual parade, yet are far more fastidious than the event itself. They are, in fact, very Ersy, an artist whose deftly precise touch recalls artists ranging from Bosch to Beardsly.

For instance, the Henri Float features a rather pope-like figure ensconced in an baroque domed wagon, heralding his presence with an enormous horn. All around him, similarly peculiar figures, a file of flamboyantly ambiguous forms, stalk in somnambulist fashion across the 12-foot expanse. Other floats, including one dedicated to krewe co-founder Paul Poche, carry figures that typically have the heads of animals grafted to bodies that suspiciously resemble little plastic Catholic saints recast in bronze.

The tone, of course, harks to the pagan origins of Mardi Gras, but the vision reflects a singular artist's interpretation of a unique event. The show comes down soon after this edition hits the streets, but this, too, is in keeping with an event that is as fleeting and ephemeral as it is frenzied.
John Greco's new assemblages, as seen in works - such as El Hombre Loco (pictured), show a - deftness with animal bones, copper, dead - flowers and certain medical devices.
  • John Greco's new assemblages, as seen in works such as El Hombre Loco (pictured), show a deftness with animal bones, copper, dead flowers and certain medical devices.

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