“High Five,” New Orleans Art Review

High Five


All right, so this is not the title of either of the solo October exhibits at Arthur Roger’s two, separate exhibition spaces. Rather, Jesus Moroles’ is entitled “Broken Earth” at the Arthur Roger Gallery Project location, and James Drake’s is “City of Tells” at Arthur Roger Gallery on Julia.

"J. Drake: City of Tells", 2002-04

But both could just as easily be called The Texas High Five since both artists are Texans and both like to work on a very large scale. Moroles’ monumental granite sculptures and Drake’s equally monumental charcoal drawings, proclaim good faith and success even if we”re running our chances into a nearly grave.

In fact, many of the characters appearing in Drake’s expose of the famous and not so famous, are dead. But that’s another story, which we will never quite know in his elaborately large charcoal on paper mounted on canvas drawings.

That’s all right because what seems to be going on in Drake’s “City of Tells” is a reclamation of the days of yore. Way yore, for one cannot help but think of Raphael or Rubens’ massive efforts. And wouldn’t you know, Raphael is included in Drake’s largest drawing as well as referred to in the artist’s statement. There we are told that the ubiquitous banquet table is used as a Renaissance tableau based on Raphael’s “School of Athens” as well a other cultural mythology. So, let us proceed as guests to Drake”s feast of charcoal, torn paper, a lot of canvas, and a little tape.

However, we mustn’t overlook the pair of videos nestled in the rear gallery. These are close-ups of the banquet table that Drake placed in outdoor settings as they were visited by a variety of creatures. There’s a very large snake seen meandering very slowly the goodies. Separately safe is a white chicken. How these contrived elements relate to the bigger picture of Drake’s theme of “City of Tells” might best be asked of Drake. Is the table setting a reference to the contrived Edens prepared by socially conscious mankind?

Jesus Moroles: Tres Mujeres

Could be, for Drake’s statement also informs us that a Tell is a card term meaning evidence via body language. For sure, there is a lot of that going on in the 12” x 32” “City of Tells” hanging loosely on the wall of the main gallery that faces the Children’s Museum. The spliced together scene of a mismatch of folk oblivious to the foreshortened nude in the foreground is downright indifferent in every way imaginable. Everyone is sitting, walking, and talking in various venues seemingly unaware they are being observed, and personally, who cares. Maybe that is the point, self-absorption to the extreme, where the goodies on the table matter little.

The real feast for Drake is obviously the pleasure he had in making the drawings. All are executed in a loose, gestural manner, as though taken from a sketchbook. Since the major works in the exhibit are large, there’s a strong sense that the artist projected photographs onto the paper and proceeded from there. The impression is akin to looking at early David Salles high society. In fact, Drake’s “City of Tells” includes a series of smaller works that are actually black and white photographs of his large banquet of luminaries. Drake has enhanced the high contrast, mezzotint effect of the photographs with additions of black and white paint.

For sure, much mileage has been achieved by repeating images. Even the other large drawing that faces Julia, City of Tells With Signs Following, capitalizes on that big snake seen earlier in the videos. Viewers are left wondering just where the snake’s head is. But as we leave without great success of following the signs, we are rewarded with a grouping of portraits in the central hall gallery. Drake’s unpretentious method of allowing torn edges and patches of tape to be part of the image imbues these individually titled studies with a heroic quality, not unlike pictures torn from a newspaper or snapshots reclaimed and held up as new and grand.

Grand is everywhere in Moroles’ “Broken Earth” at the airy Arthur Roger Gallery Project. So much so that one feels the presence of a Texas mesa, though instead of a cactus, we get a very high-handed “Mano de Jesus” and in lieu of the three mesa muses, we get the even higher “Tres Mujeres.” Of course, Moroles also deals with the purely abstract forms of Nature in the more specifically titled “Broken Earth” stacks replete with fissures and crevices.

Moroles’ series of “Broken Earth” formations are nice to look at, but in this particular outing, it is his representational works that lead to the surreal and thus to a spiritual plateau that extends beyond illustration. The naturally pink “Mano de Jesus” is nearly nine feet tall and less than a half inch thick. Its flatness is its imprint, like a handprint in the desert, enlarged for species beyond to see. Of course, the multi-life-lined hand, smooth only on the nails, could also symbolize the connection of man with the earth.

The three, headless ladies in Tres Mujeres, are a glossy black on fronts and a rough pale gray on backs and as flat as the “Mano de Jesus” but taller at nine and a half feet. They form a feminine triangle and evoke a Matisse de Milo.

Jesus Moroles: Broken Earth

Broken Earth is a world inhabited by giants and giant objects, which helps put mankind in its puny place of ignorance. Well, these Amazon ladies and hand must be intelligent, because Moroles has even included a very heavy looking “Chess Set” complete with table and benches. Only one lady per bench, it would seem. Chess is a singles game, after all.

Somewhat peculiar and solitary is the black granite “Bell” that resembles a Viking helmet or some such weighty thing. Does this bell toll for the earth or for its inhabitants? Whatever the answer, we cannot overlook Dreamscape Maquette straight out of de Chirico’s beguiling world. The sleek and flowing reduced forms found in the little benches, simple tower and ebbing waters give our “Broken Earth” a place to heal. Maybe that is Moroles’ message, that by shaping the various colored granites taken from Earth’s naturally crisp and clean bounty, he is giving permanence and power back to its rightful origin.