Keith Perelli’s collage paintings are always evolving.

Elements moved freely between pieces. Nothing is permanent.

But everything has a way of connecting in “Head Games,” his work on display at Contemporain Gallery in 1010 Nic. The show runs through July 16, and the faces are many.

Perelli’s artistic process is complex. He begins by cutting shapes out of different materials, some chosen to fit his subject’s environment.

Take, for instance, the black-and-white portraits on one side of the gallery. Perelli based them on police mug shots, the kind that run in the newspaper after a person has been arrested.

Look closely, and you’ll see pieces of an onion bag, trash thrown from a car window.

Perelli actually picks up roadside trash to use in these portraits to give them a gritty inner-city environment.

But if he sees a piece might be a better fit on one of his color portraits, no problem.

“Everything is attached with tiny nails or staples or brads,” Perelli says. “I can just detach it and attach it somewhere else.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Perelli uses natural elements, such as leaves and sticks, to create specific brush strokes or to make imprints, thereby connecting his subjects with nature.

Perelli explains this while installing his show on a Saturday. He lives and works on his art in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood. He also teaches figurative drawing and painting at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

The Contemporain show marks his first solo exhibition in Baton Rouge, and he wants viewers to understand the attempt through this work to express the complex inner emotions that drive people to connect, share and survive as individuals.

“By fusing and weaving illusory realism, abstraction and naturalism, I seek to create a veil that further blurs our reading of these emotions and our perceptions of the figure,” Perelli writes in his artist’s statement. “Through the content and process of layering my paintings, I yearn to take these internal emotions and bring them to the surface as though the figures have a translucent skin, suggesting a facade of defense but also to suggest one of vulnerability.”

The layers are complex, yet connected. And in the end, Perelli wants to plow through those layers to show who his subjects really are.

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