Heroes and villains have always been with us. St. Joseph was a Biblical figure, but to our large Sicilian community he's the saint whose intercession once saved Sicily from famine, so all those St. Joseph's Day altars elaborately festooned with food eloquently illustrate of 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 canvas, top, a dusky Joseph appears in a cornucopia-like altar of fruit, pastries and colored lights as he holds a baby Jesus bearing a platter of hotcakes. The saints in renaissance paintings often radiate light rays from their heads, but here it is radiant dreadlocks in what amounts to a hallucinatory multicultural epiphany, a saint we can all relate to. 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 muffaletta-like layers. After a long absence, Guarisco has outdone himself.
Two more 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 crazed jihadist resembled a demonic Biblical prophet grilled alive in microwave. But everything Brooklyn - based Esbers 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, as we see in Esber's Sol, left, or Fine's Roadside Attraction, below. Like Guarisco, Esbers and Fine follow a pixelated gingerbread trail to some elusive truth that only they can see, and then share slices of it with the rest of us as miraculous forensic evidence. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Upon An Altar: Paintings and Drawings by Chris Guarisco, through March 30, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988; Parts and Labor: New Paintings by James Esber; Fatty Was An Angel: New Paintings by Jane Fine, Saturdays & Sundays Through April 7, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980
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