Wild Colors at White Space Gallery

by Allan Appel | March 18, 2009 3:31 PM |

nhiwhitespace%20002.JPGJack Laroux suffers no anxiety of influence. His eye-popping oil and acrylic canvases, which have just gone on view, positively shout at you: cubism, surrealism, and spray-paint outsider art, all klieg lit.

In his first American solo show, which runs through Aprill 11 at the White Space Gallery at 1020 Chapel St., Laroux has somehow domesticated all these wild influences into a personal visual bestiary that is very much his own.

“Hey, I grab from Dali, Boccioni, the Italian futurist, even the way I fling the paint, I do it like Pollock,” said the painter, with a little demonstration of the wrist flick, at his festive opening reception Saturday night.

Laroux, who described himself as an extremist in sports — surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, “if it’s dangerous, you name it, and I’ll do it” — brings that kind of full throttle commitment to sponging up all the art that grabs him.

However, when it comes time to do the actual painting, during a five or six-month stint of work, “I purposely don’t look at any art except my own. I separate myself from what I’ve seen and try completely to enter my own experiences.”

“From Russia With Love” derives, he said, from his fascination with that country. Laroux travels a lot but he has gotten in Eastern Europe only as far as Poland. So he painted the rest of the trip, a virtual visual journey: “The opulence, the billionaires,” he said, “the redness everywhere, and of course the great onion caps of the Kremlin.”

nhiwhitespace%20003.JPGIn “Maker’s Mark and Cherries,” he’s provided a kind of snapshot of a trip to British Columbia, complete with a kaleidoscopic bear, ladybugs, and a bottle of the eponymous bourbon that helped make the trip memorable.

Both paintings are part of what Laroux calls his Pinch Series. He launched himself on it after seeing a 16th century painting at the Louvre of two topless Renaissance ladies wherein one is daintily pinching the nipple of her sister.

Laroux’s visual pinching, however, is so wildly opulent in color, too phantasmagoric to be erotic. “And the truth is,” he said, “I also just wanted to give myself the challenge of painting hands, which are very difficult to do.”

nhiwhitespace%20005.JPGDetecting the hands or birds or bottles in their twisted or elongated, Dali-esque camouflage, is in fact one of the visual pleasures Laroux says he inserts on purpose.

Part of the success of these works is that they flatter with styles and patterns familiar from the visual culture but not quite identical to what viewers already know. “My clients look for details I’ve planted in my work, and it’s fun for them to be challenged, but things turn up if you keep looking.”

One of those recent clients was Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. In the fall of last year Laroux unveiled a huge painting, titled “Prometheus,” which the hospital had commissioned to hang on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of its liver transplant unit.

nhiwhitespace%20006.JPG“They told me,” he reported, “that it had to have certain elements: the Prometheus story, including the eagle that pecked Prometheus’s liver, the fire stolen from Zeus for which he was punished, the doctors’ caduceus, the numeral 20, and some other things. You see them?”

If you don’t, Laroux happily points them out. This is a painter who deals in mysteries, but pleasing and accessible ones. As to the specification of certain elements to be included in a work like “Prometheus,” that’s a tradition as old as patronage itself.

The painting was a success, he said. “They chose me because they liked the big colors, and the cheeriness of it. I mean, after all, it’s hanging in the room with patients waiting for liver transplants.”

For the White Space exhibition, Laroux has created 40 “giclee” prints, a fancy French name for laser inkjet versions of his “Prometheus.” Several had already sold, as had three of the paintings.

Upcoming for the New Jersey-based and Parsons-trained artist is a show in New York City with nAscent Art New York at Cipriani Wall Street.

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