San Antonio, Texas. ART Magazine.
By Haydeé Muñoz De la Rocha
The exhibition at David Shelton Gallery showcases five recent bodies of work by artist Al Souza. The Houston-based artist has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. His work is in numerous museum collections, including The Whitney Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Dallas Museum of Art, and Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. Now we have the opportunity to appreciate his work here in San Antonio.
Souza’s work has a very personal quality to it. Not only because of the approachable scale of his pieces, but also because the objects he uses are recognizable objects to which most of us have some sort of relationship to. Using books, posters, crushed toys, or computer parts, the artist constructs his own kind of beauty out of repetition. In the Maktub, Backworks, Gibberish, and Marbling series, the artists creates beautiful patterns out of book edges using gold leafed and marbled pages, backings and sliced written pages. The book edges create an out-of-this world beauty that is contained within a small-scale environment delimitated by an aged wood box. Besides being visually powerful, the pieces are deep in concept as well. The Maktub Series is named after an Arabic word that means “it is written” which translates to English as “in the past”. With his “bookworks” Souza mainly explores the beauty of the book as an object but he also addresses its nostalgic growing obsoleteness. “I have always been a reader and collector of books too. I have always loved books not only for the information that they contain in the written part of the book, but also for the book as an object: the material of the book, how the spine looks, how the pages feel, or how the book feels when you hold it. I am probably not going to be one of those people who is going to take a tablet to bed that glows in the dark and read it, I love books as physical things. It’s not all bad with digital. With digital, you can make your own book online, you can make your own catalogue online, I mean, there are some very good things about it”, explained Souza.
Looking through the gallery, one sees a line of conventionally beautiful works (his book series) then a stark contrast in his Gaman series. The Gaman series was made by Souza in response to the imagery in the media after the tsunami and are named after a word of Japanese origin which means “reverence for perseverance”. The pieces consist of a chaotic arrangement of broken toys, pieces of stone, wood, and computer parts incrusted on a swampy olive background. They say there is beauty in chaos, and in this case it appears to be true. There is something disturbing about the Gaman series, which at the same time is very attractive. “I just had a hip operation at the time so I was in bed and so when you are lying down in bed recovering from an operation you watch a lot of television. I was watching at all these images of the tsunami and I found them to be very horrific, but also in some way they had a horrific beauty to them too. You can’t help but look at them and try to get over the fact of what an horrific scene it is. I think it is because of the uniqueness of the situation, because you see a visual that you had never seen before”, said Souza.
One might see the Gaman series almost as a complete opposite of his book series and their polished beauty. However, for Al the those series are separate things which both deal with his life experience and their own kind of beauty in different ways. “I separate them. It’s all things that I find interesting and “beautiful”. I am not looking for the next disaster to happen. Disasters find you. I think you should make art about experiences you had in your life, some of those experiences are visual experiences when you see images in television or you read things on the newspaper or books. It has never really physically happened to you, but you virtually experienced them, so you talk about these things”, explained the artist. This introspective extrospection is powerfully streamed through his work providing a personal experience for the viewer.
More Fundamentals will be on display until May 26. For more information go to davidsheltongallery.com