Arriving at the Linda Warren Gallery for the exhibition of Alex O’Neal’s recent works, one meets the startling, “Modern Day Tarzans,” an acrylic and collage on canvas. Here are Day-Glo greens, yellows and reds on a burnished rust background. There is a lion, a tiger, a large, long, green snake. There are androgynous figures with large breasts and moustaches with wide open mouths taunting, yelling, sticking out their tongues, pledging and promising more just ahead. It’s an outright eschatological festival.
“My work is formally rooted in several years of abstract painting done in the American Southwest,” O’Neal shares. “Thematically, the dysfunctional community of Mississippi I moved within in the sixties, early seventies, made a deep impression on me.” The paintings’ dense, dusty reds with vivid blues and yellows and occasional twists of glitter thrust those themes outward. One can feel the heat, smell the hot sauce.
“Superstars of the Delta,” acrylic and collage on canvas, lays out the humor and irony intended. Here, an Elizabeth Taylor-as-Cleopatra cutout accompanies another chorus of howling faces, “militant hippies,” both crying and laughing with tiny black-and-white cutouts of celebrities of the period spewing from their mouths. There are plenty of wild animals, dead and alive. There are military chevrons with signage encouraging one to “Eat more Possum,” and warnings that “The art world is not our friend.” The theme continues uninterrupted in twenty-one other pieces in the show.
Although admittedly inspired by works of Swiss painter Corbaz, this exhibition finds the artist fast-forwarding the cautionary tales of Bruegel and Bosch into the twenty-first century. The show chastises, mocks, curses, threatens. It is a protestant de profoundis that follows you around the room and out of the door and down the street for a long, long time. (Jeffery McNary)
Through August 15 at Linda Warren Gallery, 1052 W. Fulton Market
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