All you need is love..." Or so the Beatles once said. And yes, it sounds good. As Virgil, the Roman epic poet, once put it, "Love conquers all; let us too surrender to love." But does love really conquer all? And is it really all we need? The devil, as always, is in the details. Just what is love, anyway? In the 19th century, a preacher named Henry Ward Beecher popularized the idea that "God is love," a view of a forgiving Almighty that was not emphasized in America's sternly puritan past. But what does that have to do with songs such as the Cole Porter classic, "Love For Sale," or Carole Lombard's quirky 1936 film, Love Before Breakfast? The conflating of love and lust can lead to the kind of unholy mess expressed in yet another song lyric, this time by Jimmy Buffett: "It was a Cuban crime of passion, messy and old fashioned ... "
Yes, love can be a tricky topic and, based on his Love expo at d.o.c.s., it would appear that mixed-media artist Derek Cracco has come to that conclusion as well. Here the conflating of divine love and carnal passion propels many of his ironically lurid pop concoctions of holy and unholy images rendered in acrylic, vinyl, rice paper and resin. Their shiny surfaces evoke those glowing plastic signs on the walls of fast food places, multi-colored displays of cheeseburgers and fries like glowing polyvinyl hallucinations. Only here you can substitute saints and sinners, hearts, pistols and pin-up girls in tones of pink, mauve, scarlet, baby blue and the whiter shades of pale -- a mlange that harks to the Caribbean and Mediterranean varieties of Roman Catholic guilt with only vague hints of redemption. Cracco is, in other words, a New Orleans native, despite his current post teaching computer graphics at a university in Birmingham, Ala.
Fatal Attraction suggests a celestial constellation of holy cards partially obscured in a nimbus of little hearts varying in size from miniscule to merely tiny. Actually, some little pistols are scattered among them as well as the crosses and halos common to holy icons, and a lot of the saints have their faces whited-out, as if under the auspices of some ecclesiastical witness-protection program. It all looks weirdly 3-D as a result of having been crafted in layers of clear resin with collaged images floating within what Cracco calls "a soup of atmosphere." In Love Trials, two women appear torn, literally, as their stylishly coiffed heads are transected by halftone dots. Between them a pair of pistols and a flaming heart appear like a proverbial burning bush, as tiny lambs and valentines dot the space around them. What does it mean? All you need is ... to know it's about love. No need to call Harry Lee, at least not yet. Creepy, provocative and meticulously crafted, Love goes where angels fear to tread.
When it comes to aesthetic oddities, Cracco is a tough act to follow, but a totally different sort of weirdness appears in Sheila Scott Gourlay's paintings of Mississippi Delta landscapes, surreal interiors and disaster scenes at Soren Christensen. Anyone who's ever been to the Delta knows one thing: it's flat -- a vast, spooky sort of flatness interrupted by small towns like Clarksdale, where blues legend Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil. Gourlay's Coahoma County paintings convey the eeriness of a familiar yet otherworldly landscape that somehow melds the sensibilities of William Faulkner, Emily Bronte and B. B. King. Interspersed among them are some disaster scenes, including impressions of 9/11 as well as some surreal interiors. No Exit is a hybrid of the two genres, a domestic interior with rising water and little boats sailing out through the pictures on the wall. Delta Feast, however, is a banquet table with piles of fruit and a roast goose. Ever notice how the upraised legs of baked birds look almost luridly human? Well, here the legs really are human, shapely and female, taking us back to the dissonant dialog between love and lust, sanctity and gluttony, and all those other carnal passions.
- Derek Cracco's Love Trails is part of a series exploring the confusion caused by differing interpretations of the meaning of love.