“Francis Pavy: Variations of the Common Historical Seed,” New Orleans Art Review

By Karl F Volkmar via NOAR Magazine

Francis Pavy: Tears of a Small Sun, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 24” high.

Francis Pavy: Tears of a Small Sun, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 24” high.

As the first impressions of standing amid a chaotic sea of colors and shapes was slowly beginning to resolve itself into individual entities and images, I began to sense an empathy between a vaguely discerned memory rising from within me and the artist’s work: that this was like an experience that had happened before, when first arriving and feeling overwhelmed by the oxymoronic diversity of this polysemous aggregation of cultures that is southwest Louisiana. As individual works were beginning to engage my attention, images and patterns and relationships were becoming more apparent much as the new immigrant began making sense of the new geography in which he found himself with the first of many driving trips exploring the Florida Parishes east of the River and west into the wetlands and prairies east and south and west and north of Lafayette, following winding roads that seemed to follow no logic other than their own will through sugar cane fields, past watery rice paddies reflecting the sky, the bobbing white buoyed expanses of crawfish ponds, the sound of chugging irrigation pumps, and the occasional soy bean field.

The abstract nature of chromatic harmonies, transparent and translucent planes, crystalline/geometric and amoebic/amorphous shapes, ambivalent edges, images, and objects, and skirling and swirling patterns of the kaleidoscopic When the Day Meets the Night Where the Land Meets the Sea coalesce like the reminiscences of a story teller whose visual stories weave together the strands of tales that have passed from one mouth to another, being constantly transformed in each retelling, yet each maintaining an elemental germ of truth from which an individual’s and a culture’s art evolves.

The contours of a fish are iterated in swirling lines echoed in multiple variations throughout the work as line becomes shape and shape becomes line and figure becomes ground and ground becomes figure. Lily pads float in the air and banana trees grow from the ground. The self-reflexive name suggests the transitional and ongoing, the meeting of night and day and land and sea in the numinous passage of one to the other that is neither yet partakes of qualities of both, not day, not night, not land, not sea, but the passage, as the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is not about form or about space per se but about the ‘forms of continuity in’, or the descending of the nude, neither the nude nor the staircase themselves as things. Like the tide and the crepuscule, one is never sure of the moment when day and night are land and sea and day and light and land complement the night and dark and sea.

Each image in Third Coast Sunrise, each object, engages the viewer’s attention however momentarily like the words of a vaguely discerned libretto, of fragments of whispered conversations, within the flow of the melody as associations emerge from within. A place, a time of day, a transition from darkness to light, night to morning represents the waking durance of diurnal life as if emanating from the accordion at the right (a metaphor for the artist’s process and presence?). Subtly modulated tonal harmonies and contrasting complementaries signify quiet transitions and sudden shifts as the eye drifts across the surface, forwards and backwards. A moth immersed within the planes hovers like a swept wing glider. A dragonfly plummets to the earth. Fish float around the base of a banana tree. Oblate tear-like raindrops ooze from the sky over fragments of hinted landscapes. The gathering of plants and leaves and animals and motives are like the sounds of an accordion played by a master improvisational artist expressing in the free association of object, image, and color relationships the artist’s empathy with the world around him.

Details of Thunderhead intermingle with memories of driving along rural southwest Louisiana byways: the subtle interplay of colors and changing patterns across the visual field; concentric spiraling yellow lines lying side by side with a violet surface from which rises a burgeoning campfire whose abundant flames writhe upwards; a giant cuttlefish swimming off to the right; a dimly seen conch shell; clumps of red, blue, and dark green grasses and cane silhouetted against immeasurable red, red yellow, and yellow spaces inflected with fluttering birds a school of fish drifting effortlessly; a spattering of small rectangular shapes.

Francis Pavy: Night Flier, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 19” high.

Francis Pavy: Night Flier, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 19” high.

Dynamic relationships of color and composition, the vaguely seen and the immediate recognized, intersperse with remembrances of sounds of Cajun and Zydeco and the occasional gospel song broadcast from small local radio stations filling the space of the car drifting out the open windows intermixing in perfect empathy with flowering plants in the roadside ditches, fences, trees, and telephone poles draped with massive robes of wisteria, thundering skies and drenching rains, bursts of sun through slate gray clouds, and hordes of massive cumulus clouds marching across the skies on drives along the bayou from Arnaudville to New Iberia, gliding beneath passion fern-coated live oak trees on the roads from Rosedale to Maringouin and Livonia as the sun rises and shines and sets and clouds accumulate and white egrets and blue herons flutter and flit over the fields and ponds and paddies on the way to Iota, Mamou, and LeBeau, Angelle’s, Slim’s, and D.I.’s. Higher still lightning streaks across a blood red sky as undulating waves transition into an accumulating blue green thunderhead oozing the colored rain characteristic of late summer afternoons/early evenings as ambiguous silvery, silvery green masses float amid a flock of flying birds approaching an intensely orange sun while a great white exploding star lily glimmers behind a transparent guitar.

Corpus Obscuratio is the most rigorously geometric of the works in the exhibit with its two concentric spirals, circle of yellow sun, transparent yellow green orb, and blue circles seemingly connected by bands of color like the belt of a lyrical Klee-like machine. Black and white rectangles reminiscent of de Stijl compositions hover among washes of color and value, reinforcing the geometric nature of the circular forms and the half erased red maze within the blue circles at the right.

The double spiral from Corpus Obscuratio reappears in Partial Eclipse. Orbs of golden sun and silver moon lie haphazardly hidden in the miasmic air in which appear a ghostlike eagle, a flock of birds, a school of fish, and spiky stalks of cane. Writhing sinuous lines write themselves across a colorful sea. A precisely rendered fish, patterns, rhythms, a ghostlike tortoise, myriad shapes, colors suggesting other things, their thingness dissolving into then reasserting itself amidst the colors and the contours. On the right a strong vertical accent is defined by full height canes. Areas of color like pockets of miniature landscapes rise in a column on the left. The iteration and reiteration of birds and fish, the omnipresence of circular patterns and shapes, a golden sun disc, a bright yellow flower with radiating petals enlivens the composition. A silver moon-like shape glides in from stage left, half hidden among the cane leaves.

In the hands of the artist as lyrical poet laureate, deftly manipulated chromatic scales give voice to the richness and the sense of wonder, the dramatic in the ordinary that seems extraordinary, the natural as supernatural, a world that shapes and is shaped by those whose lives are lived within it and the experience of the recent immigrant overwhelmed by the nature of southern Louisiana. The indigenous are reminded of the complexity that may have become overlooked in the jaded routine of their lives; the newly arrived are presented clues that help one begin to understand, the former to recognize, the latter to become aware of, the prairies and marshes and swamps and bayous and woodlands that are the habitat of unassuming plants and animals and humankind’s cultural practices.

The Secret Oyster Bed represents a private domain from which that succulent seafood can be harvested during any season of the year. The irregular organic concentricity of the oyster shells is echoed in the radial symmetry of palmetto fans, a coil of rope, a yellow sponge-like mass. The geometric regularity of the three phases of the opalescent pearl-like moon is mimicked in white circles bubbling here and there. Clusters of simplified piscine silhouettes, bright red and green arabesques and jagged spears of lightning, multicolored clumps of grasses, the symmetrical irregularity of a crab shell, and the rigorous geometry of a transparent double tetrahedron are coequal in their gliding sliding floating drifting through this nacreous world.

Francis Pavy: Secret Oyster Bed, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 72” high.

Francis Pavy: Secret Oyster Bed, 2014. Oil and block prints on canvas. 72” high.

The search for connections between images and compositions and titles leads to discovery of images and things and patterns here and there in one wok and then finding similar or variations thereof elsewhere in another, suggesting associations of intentions and interpretations. In Tropical Storm, patterns of lines, concentric echoes of a cast stone, a breeze rippling across the bay, insects dancing across the waters, a fish breaking up from below, a snake swimming just beneath the surface, serpentines, arabesques, sinuous lines, spiraling eddies, eels suggest the immanent turmoil of the storm.

Each work can be read from right to left and left to right, from bottom to top and top to bottom, experiencing transitions and transformations, appearances and disappearances. In Aigle Rouge, a bright red eagle soars across the surface, wings echoing the curving contour of the petals of a lotus blossom. A green spiral repeats the yellow below iterating the sound hole of a guitar lying half hidden beneath a blue starfish; a thicket of light green grasses rises vertically into long yellow fronds into a pale white rectangular cloud. The yellow lotus blossom drifts above a slow spiraling pattern against a blue green textured ground. A fisherman’s knot not yet pulled tight echoes the light blue guitar that mimes a map star. Vertical accents, horizontal rhythms, layers of directional lines counterpointing each other, transparent and opaque layers revealing and hiding what lies below are like the parts of a melody winding its way through a rhythmic space adorned with arpeggios and syncopations of images patterns.

Ambiguous titles allow one to elude the grip of reason. The eye roams freely, deliberately, recognizing leaves, a stream of scalloped green waves, a sailboat, a chevron pattern overlapping a great blue whale, alternating light and dark textured triangular shapes, the ubiquitous fish and circular spirals, the ghost of an alligator, and the constantly shifting flow of color in New Moon. What do an alligator and a wood campfire have to do with the Tears of a Small Sun? A chaotic explosion of color, pattern, and shape signifies the perigee of a High Tide at the moment when incoming and outgoing attain an indefinite point of equilibrium. A huge cephalopod watches patiently, inquisitively, disinterestedly out of the visual melee that is Ink Behind the 7th Wave. Swirling lines like the flight path of the moth in The Moth Code are like a mystical hieroglyph.

Fall Migration with its low saturation colors and darker values is a surreal landscape that incorporates elements found in other works, each image pattern object woven into the whole with overlapping planes, iterated contours and shapes, and varied rhythmic patterns of lines. Half Shell Conglomerate is a quieter work, a crepuscular nocturne: a dominant horizontal with minor vertical chords, a muted range of tones, few strong and never dominant contrasts of line, colors, shapes, a subtle push pull, an elegant pattern before one sees the crab, the simple abstraction of half oyster shells, quiet transparent overlays, an elaborate nautical knot, a concentric disk asserting a counter plane to the flatness of the dominant mode, a single blue line iterates the motion of the scalloping wave-like lines three above one below as two slithering forms work their way.

The conflation of the iterative character of block printing and the individualistic nature of oils mirrors the traditional basic structure of the old French music that underlies subsequent invention and improvisation. Like an avid dancer to Zydeco and Cajun who appreciates and moves in harmony with the subtle variations that distinguish one song from another and the same song played by different musicians and adapts his/her rhythmic response to the nuanced differences underappreciated by outsiders, the artist writes/plays/prints/paints his variations of the common historical seed. It would be very interesting to invite musicians who are adept at improvisation to respond to Pavy’s works as experimental ‘musical’ notation.