Over time, artists become known for a certain style. In the case of Keith Perelli, that means a floridly surreal approach to self-expression, a hall of mirrors environment of oddly baroque illusionism. But consistency can be both a blessing and a curse, and artists can get a tad predictable, and even though Perelli's new show includes a number of large and typically convoluted canvases, there are also some surprises: another 20 or so startlingly experimental new works.
Both series were inspired by the events of 9/11 two years ago, but the approaches are strikingly different. The Structures series is more familiar, featuring figures that clearly resemble Perelli, looking somewhat lost and caught up in an illusionistic maze of architectural elements. Or so he says. Actually, Thatch, a large canvas featuring two Perelli-ish figures in a labyrinth of flowers, vases, birds and other typically baroque filigree, is more like what we traditionally associate with this artist. In another he seems to have fallen through the looking glass and into a rabbit hole with several bushels of plums. Tightrope is in fact more structural, although here, too, the twin Perelli figures appear in the midst of a baroque fruit-of-the-loom cornucopia even as the remains of a bombed-out parking garage frames them in the background. While predictably self-referential, Perelli excels in a kind of painterly transmogrification that has much potential for future growth.
The Homeland series focuses less on self and more on others. Presumably these are the real or imagined visages of those who directly experienced the 9/11 slaughter. In the Passenger series, based on the riders aboard the fated aircraft, the visages are painted on riveted bits of sheet metal, suggesting fragments of airplane. The faces are all very interesting, evoking real lives rendered with a kind of ghostly nobility. A much larger work, aptly titled Shield, is comprised of small bits of aluminum, each containing a sketchily painted head.
Ash is a series of ghostly male figures, perhaps firemen, painted on plexiglass. The plexi is mounted so it can pivot to reveal the smoky, spectral remains of the twin towers painted beneath. And Random Profile features paintings with fragments of faces arranged in random order, a reference, perhaps, to the way Homeland Security laws break down identities into fragments of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic mosaic that even the best lawyers find almost impenetrable. All in all, it's an intriguing body of work that draws on Perelli's flair for paint amidst some interestingly experimental changes of pace.
Meanwhile at Poet's Gallery, no national tragedies haunt Lateefah Wright's whimsical ceramics and paintings, but her style is as unique as they come. Yet, social issues are not really absent either, even if sharply buoyant humor and aesthetic intrigue are often the first things we see. Inspired by "19th century French circuses, old world erotica and silent films," Wright seems to want to populate the world with little female figures acting out private melodramas of their own.
This is basically a doll, puppet and figurine show, though there are also some vases, tiles and paintings. But the doll-like figurines set the tone, and the tone is eerie. Ovidia-Ovarian Lamb is a ceramic Snow White with long platinum hair and a big hoop skirt. Her mouth is open as if singing, yet look through the portals of her skirt and inside is a slaughtered white lamb in a pool of blood. It's all very elaborate, symbolic and meticulously done, clearly a darker shade of pale. Related is Little Lambs Eat Ivy, a pair of neo-art nouveau tiles featuring a medusa-like female head amid a flurry of florid flourishes. Insulin and Old Lace is no less florid, but it's a vase, a kind of gothic art nouveau urn like Newcomb pottery embellished with erotic Hindu fertility carvings.
Still, it is the dolls and figurines, a collection of sassy and saucy female archetypes, that reign supreme. While we don't ordinarily associate ceramics with deep or heady themes, this show manages to be immensely entertaining while conveying no end of ideas through the ancient female devices of attitude and innuendo. And it doesn't hurt that some of the stunts Wright pulls in clay are quite magical as well.
- The 9/11 passengers of Keith Perelli's Passenger series, on view at d.o.c.s. gallery, suggest a kind of ghostly nobility.