“Review: Luis Cruz Azaceta’s geometric paintings at Arthur Roger Gallery,” Gambit

By D. Eric Bookhardt, via bestofneworleans.com

Luis Cruz Azaceta

THE BIG EASY, 2016 | Acrylic on canvas | 96 x 120 inches

On the Brink seems an unusual title for a geometric abstract painting show. The crisp geometry of traditional art deco, op art or minimalist design, like the sleek lines of modern architecture and furniture, all epitomize a kind of optimistic rationalism, but Luis Cruz Azaceta was forever marked by the chaos that characterized the Cuban revolution and his life as a youthful refugee. That pathos fueled his rise as a leading expressionist painter in 1980s New York, while instilling a deep empathy for outsiders and migrants. Azaceta’s new paintings infuse geometric compositions with the unsettled tenor of the present in colorfully contrapuntal works defined by buoyantly slinky mambolike rhythms that reflect an indelibly Cuban sensibility despite his more than a half-century tenure in the U.S. Like New Orleans, Cuba is a Creole amalgam of European and Afro-Caribbean cultures, and Azaceta’s wall-size canvas The Big Easy (pictured) suggests a jazzy distillation of our diverse DNA. Its colorful wedges evoke the bold patterning of African textiles, and perhaps our crazy quilt street life, in a progression of architectonic forms that mimic Professor Longhair’s rambling, tango-inflected R&B crescendos. The similarly oscillating stacks of brilliant, primary-colored wedges in A Question of Color 666 look buoyant at first glance, but the dominant stacks of horizontal wedges are flanked by diagonal triangular slashes that seem pushed off to the side in a way that looks less stable and more vulnerable to the forces of gravity. Orlando seems alluringly vibrant, but is punctuated with unsettling splash patterns of black dots that look like bullet holes. Earlier Azaceta motifs are reprised in No Exit 2, an Orwellian maze of serpentine black and swirling caution-vest green forms that suggest the cat-and-mouse interplay of control and chaos that characterizes early 21st-century life. Blue Riot 200, while recent, harks to classical Azaceta neo-expressionism in similarly swirling, mazelike tangles that suggest America’s seemingly endless convolutions of societal dysfunction in an age when both black and blue lives matter but equitable resolution remains an elusive ideal.