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