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Al Souza / MATRIX 124

March 1, 1989 - April 1, 1989

Ideological Swindle, 1984

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Using vibrant, transparent lines, Al Souza layers found images. In Mainstreams, he painted a weather map over a math book picture of boys swimming. Over these he painted a Japanese discourse on the use of a flush toilet. Souza compares his work to "picking up the wrong book." Like an almanac, it piques the curious viewer with diverse information from many sources.

Souza often chooses images which purport to explain or instruct. Such declarative images are potent, and we tend to accept them as unassailably factual. Souza, however, reads every image as an opinion expressed in a particular context. His sandwiching of images undermines their uniqueness and thereby dissipates their authority.

In the 1970s, Souza played with the truthful appearance of photography. Four Lies (1975) consists of sixteen photographs of an apple. Under each is a statement about the apple (e.g., "The temperature of this apple is 68 degrees"). Actually, all of the statements, including the title, are false. Thus, this work belies two common assumptions: that art should be honest, and that photography records reality. Questioning such assumptions is one key to Souza's work.

Another important aspect of his work is active interpretation. In Private Dancer he replicates one of Posada's cavaleras prints, a scenario in which suitor-skeletons dance before waitress-skeletons. Illustrating certain Mexican attitudes about death, Posada's woodcut was initially intended for people from a particular culture. Nevertheless, its combination of joy and grief can be appreciated when seen in contrast to European attitudes-especially about death as catastrophe-suggested by a detail from Dürer of an apocalyptic explosion, which Souza uses to embellish the Posada.

Souza's paintings, like montage in film, suggest discontinuity yet induce interpretation. "From the collision of two given factors," wrote Sergei Eisenstein, "arises a concept."* For Souza, thinking is a "collision" of images, and a maing sense of a plurality of ideas and impressions.
Even Souza's process serves as a metaphor for expanded visual meaning: he magnifies images. He projects small images taken from books onto large canvases. After he copies out the projections, the once intimate images can be viewed simultaneously by numerous people. Generally, he selects images that were first realized through printmaking: images with an essential, technical potential for wide distribution. Ironically, however, they were most often created as instructional illustrations and descriptions, which addressed limited concerns. Souza achieves a democratization of images by juxtaposing them.

It is helpful to understand Souza's work as a conceptual parallel to Cubism. Cubism was devoted to depicting the physical world, especially common objects. In order to express this devotion, the Cubists employed all materials, from oil paint to newsprint, with equal diligence. Furthermore, they insisted that objects could be fully understood only by juxtaposing several views seen through time and space. Souza is devoted to the depiction of meaning and insists that a concept or attitude can be fully known only by considering several viewpoints expressed at various times, by various populations, and in various styles.

Al Souza was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1944. He received his MFA in 1972 from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he had previously taken a Bachelor's Degree in civil engineering. He attended the Art Students League in New York between 1967 and 1970, and the School of Visual Arts in 1972. He is currently Visiting Artist at San Diego State University.

Michael M. Floss

* Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form (N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949/1977).

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from the Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Foundation, the California Tamarack Foundation, Art Matters, Inc., and the Alameda County Art Commission's County Supervisors' Arts Support Program.