Al Souza by Suzan Sherman

BOMB 71 Spring 2000
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Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

Souza 01 Body

Al Souza, Black & White & Red, 1999, puzzle parts and glue on wood, 54 × 46”. All images courtesy Al Souza.

When a jigsaw puzzle is first spilled from its box there is the chaos of hundreds, sometimes even thousands of individual parts—some so tiny they reveal themselves only as a dollop of color, a ripple of cloth or the tooth of a smile—which, after much effort, the trials and errors of fitting and not fitting, are made into a whole. When the last piece is snugly secured in place there comes with it a sense of relief, the completed puzzle is a satisfyingly ordered world where each edge, despite countless irregularities, inevitably connects to another. The construction of a puzzle is, in a sense, a reversed exercise in abstraction, where instead of breaking down a form the abstraction is its individual fragments, which, when linked, create a literal whole.

By pilfering fragments from a wide array of puzzles and gluing them into collages, Al Souza has disrupted the order of the puzzle’s world, making for what at times is a humorously jumbled hodgepodge of information. As with dreams and free associations, the viewer makes synaptic leaps from one seemingly disparate form bursting from a Souza painting to another. Though Souza works in what is predominantly a flat plane, the splicing together of images makes for a variety of depths, and the abstraction of what was at one time literal is clearly in evidence. In Fish Fry, a blue hail of yarn peeks through what appears to be a medieval procession. In Cat Hair, two babies lie peacefully within inches of two trains, which, if they shifted direction ever so slightly—if all this were real—could conceivably sever their innocent heads. The Statue of Liberty towers over the scene, another familiar snippet, though much of Souza’s surfaces are abstract; puzzles as complex patterns of color, a soup of sorts, in which the literal bits get cooked. Souza’s work is, in part, a return to the memory of play, to a time before the computer and the quickening of life, when childhood afternoons were spent mulling over bits of cardboard. In gazing at Souza’s work the mind shifts like a kaleidoscope turning ever so slightly, reinterpreting fragments of meanings and possibilities—and it is a pleasurably puzzling exercise.

—Suzan Sherman

Souza 03 Body

Al Souza, Cat Hair, 1999, puzzle parts and glue on wood.

Souza 04 Body

Al Souza, Fish Fry (detail), 1999, puzzle parts and glue on wood.

Burhan Dogançay by Phillip Lopate
Burhan Dogancay 1
Michele Araujo by Lisa Cohen
Araujo 01

In one painting, I am picked up and drawn into a wild weather event, a storm of color, wind, and light.

Samuel Jablon by James Hyde
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With exuberance, Jablon’s paintings tell the story of their own making. They are what they are by showing how they got there and how they take up their subject—and that subject is text.

Wendy White by EJ Hauser
White 4 Body

In Chinatown, NYC, where Wendy White lives, new signs go up over outdated signs, new awnings are installed over old ones, graffiti is painted over, windows become walls, additions are built, architecture is modified, buildings disappear … White has become a connoisseur of these visual shifts.

Originally published in

BOMB 71, Spring 2000

Featuring interviews with Frank Stella, John Currin, Jim Crace, Frances Kiernan, Brian Boyd, Marsha Norman, and Arto Lindsay. 

Read the issue
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