“As Clear As White and Black”, The Times-Picayune

As Clear As White and Black



Controlled Chaos

That level of excellence continues into the middle gallery with the huge painted collages of artist James Barsness, who splits his time between Georgia and California. Barsness’ works look like antique Hindu scrolls, with elephant gods, celestial turtles, intricate mandalas and endless decorative patterns. But straight pseudo-religious iconography they’re not.

Family Tree, 1998

Between the mythological animals are comic-book clippings of the Incredible Hulk, Superman and cartoon rats. Plus there are scraps of old letters, ball-point pen doodles, calendar pages, snippets of pornography and lots of photos, including scores of self-portraits of the artist.

Each of the four large pieces in the show is a hyper busy, incredibly labor-intensive grunge-pop masterpiece that would take a week to fully explore. My favorite is Family Tree, an endlessly intricate botanical octopus growing from a vaginal cleft. Hanging like bizarre fruit from every minuscule branch is a small circular magazine photo of people from James Bond to Marcel Duchamp to Josephine Baker to Hoss Cartwright (from TV’s “Bonanza”) to scores and scores of other recognizable people, most of whom I couldn’t recognize.

The sheer obsessiveness of the piece is its own reward. You become lost in its repetitiveness. It’s the family of man – a hopeless labyrinth. Who says you can’t have too much of a good thing.