Like Where's Waldo? for grown-ups, artist Francis X. Pavy's combo packs of mixed-media woodblock prints, stencils and paint are a head trip of search-and-find stuff. Your eyes will get a workout roaming across Pavy's layered palimpsests and their festive surfaces action-packed with imagery ranging from artichokes to onions to rockabilly guitar strummers. In his solo show New Roads at Barbara Archer Gallery, most of the works on paper and canvas hover around 20-inches-by-30-inches. The artworks combine a succession of prints of country and Western crooners, fish or Coke bottles layered with stencil raindrops and hand-drawn swirls of color.
The Louisiana-based artist, who counts Paul Simon and Ron Howard among his fans, shows a sincere dedication to cramming as much information as possible into a limited amount of space. In "The Lost Road, Chatahoula Study #1," faces emerge from the farrago, a man radiates electric squiggles of energy, a white dove enters from one corner and an explosion of bright Astroturf green occurs in another. Pavy's work exudes a folksy, Southern love of the stuff of daily life that many have attributed to the artist's Cajun roots. Pavy feels about wide-tooth combs and Coke bottles the way some Southern folk artists feel about Jesus and Satan: he just can't get enough. With their yen for retro imagery and manic layers, the pieces often feel like observing a vintage juke joint act beneath a haze of alcohol: everything comes at you at once, and processing can be a challenge.
Do a circuit around the gallery and you begin to feel locked in the visual equivalent of a word search. Some of Pavy's works are less appealing for the simple fact that they aren't chock full enough with interesting stuff — your eyeballs become greedy as your brain acclimates to the barrage of imagery and begins to crave more quirk, more non sequiturs, more novelty. You find yourself thinking, "You know, a catfish and an alarm clock right here might do the trick."
Often there's a combination of too much going on and too much same old same old. In such singular pieces, Pavy breaks from his 20-by-30ish format to let his inner storyteller off the hook. "Alligator Rain," a large-scale mix of a mural-sized woodblock print on paper, features an alligator in all its green, leathery glory over which Pavy has laid prints of fish, turtles, crabs and other swamp town critters. Pavy has also incorporated delicate panels of tissue paper, which better convey the sense of our eye as the brain's detective, roaming across discrete pieces of information to make up a total picture.
Pavy's techniques can suggest a metaphor for consciousness, subjectivity and memory as composed of many discrete parts. Nowhere does that become clearer than in the sculptural work "Borderlands: The Twin with the Camera," where Pavy gets satisfyingly personal. Using a succession of materials including layers of plexiglass, carved wood, neon and text, Pavy tells the story of a lady photographer friend who wound up in a mental institution. It's an ambitious piece with the creativity and freedom that suggests an artist truly going outside his comfort zone and turning up real treasure in the process.