Sunday, March 3, 2013

Michael Bolerjack at d.o.c.s.

"New Orleans is the most beautiful city because it is gritty and raw. You love the city because of it, not in spite of it." So says Michael Bolerjack, whose paintings do indeed convey this city's resonant Caribbean mix of grit and mystery.  A visual poet of vital decay and distressed grandeur, he explores the dark inner recesses of our culture in canvasses that are startling for their mix of historicism and sensationalism rendered with iconic economy. His post-college day job as a tattoo artist, with its emphasis on making dramatic statements within a limited space, may have been an influence. Like the best tattoo artists, he makes the most of suggestion, deploying familiar images in ways that convey dual or extended meanings. 

Religious themes often play a role. In Exhibit I.N.R.I., below, two crucifixion-like figures appear within traceries like those employed by police to denote the positions of murder victims. The Last Supper, above, is a painting of a pelican feeding its young with its own flesh, and yes, that's the Louisiana state seal, but it was also a symbol of Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry long before Louisiana existed. With its bloody breast and gothic fenestration, the state bird is here returned to its ancient and mystical context. In another canvas, a Masonic "All Seeing Eye" appears within a triangle created by two crossed pelican beaks in a variation of the pyramidal symbol on the dollar bill. The currency theme continues in his portraits of Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln framed by traces of paper money engraving, only here they look like zombies, as if they've seen too way much in their travels through the financial system. Bolerjack is unusual for his ability to deftly mingle the darkly brooding expressionism of a George Grosz or Ivan Albright with commonly accessible imagery--an alchemical mix that is eerily reminiscent of the deeply eloquent shadows and bright lights of his home town.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt


Saint Almost: Recent Paintings by Michael Bolerjack, through April 4, d.o.c.s Gallery, 709 Camp St., 524-3936. Left: Eyes Seeing All, by Michael Bolerjack. Related: Louisiana Flag Harks to Knights Templars & Freemasons.