In Keith Perelli’s art, things are never quite as simple as they seem.
Which isn’t to say that any of the works in his new show “Of Paint and Paper” at the Delgado Fine Arts Gallery are simple, exactly. Even a casual look will show you just how densely layered and intricately constructed his portraits and figure studies can be.
But then again, they’re a lot more than just portraits and figure studies.
Most often using the male form as a departure point, Perelli’s finely detailed monotype collage paintings can resemble anatomical drawings, nature studies, and even architectural renderings.
In keeping with the visual complexity of his work, the way Perelli creates the pieces in “Of Paint and Paper” is technically involved as well.
“The process involves adding and subtracting intaglio ink on a Plexiglas plate to create one unique painting that is then printed using a printing press,” he said. “I then enhance each piece with additional media including color pencil, paint or collage.”
The ultimate results are works which constantly capture and challenge the eye. You’re initially drawn to an image like “Immortales #3” by its monumental presence and the piercingly direct gaze of its subject, but the smaller details and textures which underlie and surround the subject’s face make the work more profoundly engaging.
The layered aspect of Perelli’s monotypes also works on a conceptual level. Many of the portraits feature patterned motifs that recall the respiratory systems of leaves, which Perelli intended as a reminder of the relationship between plants and human beings. “Plants have an ephemeral quality in that their lives are temporary like ours,” he said.
In other works, Perelli incorporates impressions of litter and found objects into the inked surface of his monotypes: “Cigarette packages, condom wrappers, beer cups, candy papers and a fast-food crown reflect urban neglect and warn of indulgence,” he explained.
One of the highlights of the show, “Mosquito Muerto,” is an ambiguous depiction of three main figures whose structures are composed of dozens of fragments of botanical specimens, dressmakers armatures and abstract motifs.
The effect is kaleidoscopic and disorienting, and underscores Perelli’s observation that he approached painting the figures in the series “from the inside out.”
Elsewhere in the show, the art-historically inclined will recognize the composition of “Le Bain” as based on Édouard Manet’s seminal painting “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,” which caused a scandal upon its exhibition in 1863 for its casual depiction of a nude woman enjoying a picnic with two fully dressed men.
In “Le Bain” (which was the original title of Manet’s painting), Perelli subverts his source material by making all three of his central subjects nude men, and transforming the lush green lawn upon which the figures sit in the original into a gently undulating mosaic of disembodied heads, torsos, and body parts. The effect isn’t grisly, but serene — almost as if these three figures were reclining on a cloud of their own memories, identities and past loves.
For Perelli, the multiple visual layers of his work are intended to do more than show off his considerable artistic slight-of-hand.
“The exhibit explores a number of issues and ideas from the personal to the socially conscious,” he said. “I am very interested in exploring vulnerability and a shared humanness of life’s experiences.”
A native of New Orleans, Perelli has exhibited widely both locally and abroad and is currently on the Visual Arts faculty at the New Orleans Center for Creative Art. Considering his role as an educator, it isn’t surprising that he considers interaction with the viewer a key part of his work.
“I hope to bring together collages that challenge a viewer,” he said.
“But I also invite them to participate in a dialogue that prompts their own visual imagination.”
‘Of Paint and Paper: A Survey of Monotype Collage Paintings by Keith Perelli, 2011-Present’
WHERE: The Isaac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery at Delgado Community College, 615 City Park Ave., New Orleans
WHEN: Opens Sept. 4 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. On view Mondays and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesdays to Fridays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Saturdays and Sundays) through Oct. 2
INFO: (504) 671-6377; www.dcc.edu/departments/art-gallery/