I'VE NEVER BEEN to New Orleans, so I've never seen the wild dancing of the near naked abroad at night in Mardi Gras, nor the lights spilling out of the jazz clubs until dawn. Nor have I heard the hypnotic music of the French Quarter calling the virtuous from their beds and sending them prancing into the streets.
But I can get an inkling of carnival's voluptuous delights by looking at the paintings of Charles Piqué. The loony, lascivious delights of Mardi Gras permeate his exuberant works even now, some 20 years after he exchanged the humid, swampy precincts of the Gulf for the dry, Southwestern desert. A New Orleans native, Piqué came to Tucson in the '70s to get his MFA at the University of Arizona and never left.
He's lived for the last 15 years at the Rancho Linda Vista artist colony near Oracle, but the desert silences don't seem to have made much headway into his consciousness. His huge show at New Doors of the Arts gallery offers up 36 extravagantly colored oils on canvas and 15 monoprints completed over the last 10 years. Apart from one relatively tranquil painting of the ranch and a few South Seas fantasies and flower paintings, his works are giddy with the rhythms of the city and the lurid colors of lamplight. They're alive with fantastical figures and buildings that writhe to music we can almost hear.
Look closely at the dancing city resplendent with revelers in "Mardi Gras Morning," and you'll find a joyful streetscape of giant jukeboxes. Piqué, who teams up for this two-person show with stone sculptor Zac Zakovi, calls his portion of the show Jukebox Cities, with reason. The jukebox, that monument of the diner, of cheap bars and of cheaper music, is such an icon to Piqué that it appears in almost every painting. There are no straight lines in his cities, no buttoned-down skyscrapers, no neat and tidy houses. In their place are curving jukeboxes, which compress home and musical club and the home-sweet-home of sex into a single jubilant shape.
Wild as the notion sounds, Piqué coaxes his painted jukeboxes into the form of a penis-cum-vagina, an erotic magnet for all comers. These musical machines radiate sex. They dispense with all that foreplay of dancing and music and come right to the point. "The Cardinal" offers up Piqué's most stridently sexual jukebox, a monumental machine that stands front and center on the canvas, painted in a bright genital red. Its combo of male-female private parts entice against a background of abundantly blooming plants in green and blue.
For all the love of the city and its cheap charms that these paintings show, their maker also delights in the fertile natural world. Dense bowers of flowers bank his cities, and giant curvaceous leaves wend their way into his urban streets. In the flower paintings, such as "Purple Vase Iris," the blossoms loom large on the canvas, but even they seem to gyrate to the unheard strains of a juke joint. Piqué also dreams up fantastical landscapes, vaguely Asian, peopled with erotic odalisques. Even in these dreamy places, like the exotic world of "Tahitian Paradise," there are jukebox houses, but they're set along elaborate canals and lagoons lined with palm trees.
Raising the temperature of Piqué's heady musical mix of sex and fantasy are colors heated up to the boiling point. Flashy oranges, pushy pinks, screechy blues and lurid greens assault the canvases in strokes of the brush that are sometimes thick, sometimes flat. Every wall of the vast warehouse gallery is covered with these crowded, noisy paintings, a contrast to the silent stone stelae of Zakovi rising up in the center of the room.
These massive sculptures of rosy sandstone and pale limestone and black Apache gabbro draw on the Maya aesthetic of stone monuments. They stand like sentinels, carved with mysterious symbols, offering up a transition between the quarries of the earth that they came from and the workings of civilization upon them. Into these massive rocks, some weighing close to a ton, Zakovi carves symbols suggestive of ancient petroglyphs--stars and swirls--and such signs of the modern world as highway traffic arrows. Another UA MFA from a generation ago, Zakovi leaves some passages of his stone rough, even allowing clinging lichen to stay, and polishes other parts until they gleam.
But Zakovi isn't a Ben Goo, the Tucson sculptor who reveals the pure natural beauty of his materials in his sensuous carvings. Zakovi deliberately calls attention to the blight of human touch. A rusted metal stand, for example, holds up a slab of gorgeous carved sandstone in "Iron Tree." There's almost a junkyard aesthetic at work here, a vision of the serendipitous beauty of trash coupled with the best of nature. In this, Zakovi's work resonates with the paintings of Piqué, who relishes both the natural and the artificial, the lovely flower and the tawdry streets.
The exhibition of Charles Piqué's Jukebox Cities and Zac Zakovi's Stele Stones at New Doors of the Arts, 242 S. Park Ave. (south of Broadway) closes this weekend with a rock-and-roll party Saturday night, February 25. The TK Trio with Dr. Paul, a bluesy rock-and-roll band, will play at the free event, which begins at 6 p.m. and is expected to continue until about 1 a.m. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment. For more information call 770-9950.
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