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by Andy Brumer

“Circus Alterpiece,” oil on
wood cutouts/electronics,
43 1/2 x 48 x 5 1/2”, 2000.

“Tiny Evils--Disrespect,” oil on
wood cutouts/string,
37 x 18 x 3 1/2”, 2000.

“Karen and Cliff,” oil on wood,
36 x 39 1/2 x 4”, 2000.

“Circus Woman #4,” oil
on wood cutouts,
36 x 36 x 6”, 2000.
(Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica) This is Alyson Souza's first one person show, and it represents quite an impressive debut for this young artist. Souza moved to Los Angeles from New York three years ago, to, "be able to work and live in the sun year round." Much of her work and psychic energy blazes and brews, transforms and transfigures itself in the mythic cauldron of the collective and personal unconscious, where darkness and light intertwine in an eternal dance. It is no wonder then that this artist, daughter of New York-based artist Al Souza, found herself drawn to the Southern California light.

In this exhibition, Souza employs her thickly applied paint to create realistically rendered, though surrealistically spirited images positioned inside custom-made boxes. Archetypal subjects and signs, such as The Clown, The Castle, The Cross, The Old Lady, The Snake, and The Curtain sit in Joseph Cornell-like boxes, several of them arranged into triptych configurations and/or shaped in the form of altars. As Souza poetically writes in her statement for this show, "the 3-dimensional paintings of carnivalesque mechanizations, bright colors and intense incongruity induce an encounter wherein the mundane seems oddly sinister, and vice-versa. This interactive rhythm plays throughout the work, gathering momentum with each piece like an accumulation of familiar, yet ethereal memories. . ."

Like dreams--in that each piece strongly hints at a narrative modus operandi--these paintings echo with that nascent state of just falling asleep, when seemingly bizarre and incoherent events erupt in a phantasmagoria of hilarity and fear.

In Circus Altarpiece a somewhat sinister and world-weary clown smiles disturbingly from the middle panel, centered between two sides of a lusciously heavy blue velvet curtain. To the clown's left, a circus elephant (identified as such by the festive 'blanket' that drapes the animal's head) paces somnambulistically forward. At his left, a terrifying lion growls wide-mouthed, exposing sharp and eerily enticing teeth. A coiled snake fills the triangular panel above the clown’s head as a symbol of stored energy and occluded meaning. The masculine lion, the feminine elephant, the androgynous snake, seem parts of the clown's inner 'family;' in Jungian terms, his anima, animus, and Self.

Another triptych composes three panels side-by-side, each with a distinct name: Tiny Evils-Disrespect; Tiny Evils-Deception; and Tiny Evils-Destruction. The artist divides each panel into three vertical sub-panels, heightening the haunting play between psychic vastness and containment. In the first panel (reading the piece from left to right), a disembodied arm passes across the frame into the middle panel, where it touches a self-portrait of the artist's own face and head. This figure in turn reaches with its left hand into the third panel to pull a red curtain down over a painted image of a castle surrounded by a forest.

The second large panel, Tiny Evils-Deceptions (again, sectioned into three vertical sub-panels), presents the same arm and hand as in the left-hand large panel as it reaches over into the middle zone, where it stuffs white paper or tissue into the artist's ear. In cinematic-like movement, the woman (Souza herself) blows fire out of her mouth and sets the castle in panel number 3 on fire.

Finally, the panel Tiny Evils-Destruction, resolves the drama of this piece via a reconciliation of the creative and the destructive impulses that exist inside all people. Here the now familiar arm and hand reaches into the middle register and with a scissor snips the right shoulder strap of the artist's dress. This time Souza depicts herself with eyes turned directly toward the castle in sub-panel 3. With paintbrush in hand, she is shown scribbling a cryptic red wavy line on top of the edifice. This simple, spontaneous, and seemingly unconscious act of creation unifies and cleanses the narrative with a tone of innocence.

After contemplating these box paintings, animated with such craft and incendiary imagination, we anticipate the future work of this very talented artist.