Sunday, February 28, 2016

John Isiah Walton/Vanessa Centeno/Rosa Byun / Steph Marcus/Sean Starwars @ The Front

The line between naive folk art and sophisticated expressionism is sometimes very thin, and John Isiah Walton walks it like a tightrope in this Rodeo series at the Front. Based on Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola's annual inmate rodeo, his work conveys the irony of a place where risky spectacles like bull riding provide coveted rewards for good behavior. Such ironies provide fodder for an artist whose loose brushwork is so unbridled that it's almost confrontational. It is unclear if that is intentional, but his best work exudes a psychological boldness that is attracting interest in New York and beyond. Sometimes ultra - loose brushwork makes me crazy, but he pulls it off in works like 515, pictured, where a downed rider seems on the verge of being trampled by a raging bull—a scene that harks to humanity's most ancient memories of meaningful encounters with the animal kingdom. Perhaps because Walton appears to have empathetic chemistry with his subjects, his work has an impact that makes him an emerging artist worth watching.

Vanessa Centeno's vibrant mixed media wall sculptures reflect her unique interpretation of the way colorful consumer items can snag their buyers the way lures snag fish. Their discarded remnants clog the oceans with trash and induce enough angst to provoke Centeno's inner Mary Shelley to craft brightly hued constructions with a dark side -- not exactly Frankensteinian, but definitely weird. Rather like rumpled canvas shrouds, their unsettlingly loopy accoutrements soon become evident, for instance, in Fast Lane, left, where a sinister snout with teeth surreptitiously protrudes from beneath festive ruffles in a series that collectively alludes to consumer culture as a vast, polymorphous, booby trapped pinata. In the back gallery, works by Rosa Byun, Steph Marcus and Sean Starwars exude an acerbic pop surreality typified by Marcus' painted cardboard portrait of a well fed cat in a baseball cap with human legs dangling from its mouth--a fitting talisman, perhaps, for this tumultuous time. ~Bookhardt / New Work by John Isiah Walton, Vanessa Centeno, Rosa Byun, Steph Marcus and Sean Starwars, Through March 6, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;