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 Al Souza  (1944 - )

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Lived/Active: Texas/New York/Massachusetts      Known for: collage from jugsaw puzzles, mixed-media works

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from Auction House Records.
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Biography from Heritage Auctions:
Al Souza is a Massachusetts-born, Houston-based artist.  Over the past fifteen years, he has made works "of extraordinary originality and dazzling beauty" collaged from jigsaw puzzles, often four or five layers deep (Pillsbury, 2000, p. 2).

Pillsbury's appreciation of Souza's art was not simply its finished result, but in the process itself, and in the meaning and intention inherent within the process--something he described with great sensitivity in his catalogue introduction accompanying the first of two Souza exhibitions he mounted at Pillsbury-Peters Gallery in Dallas.

Because Ted Pillsbury's language can seldom be paraphrased without losing the richness of his personality, or without obscuring a glimpse into the specific way his mind wrapped itself around a subject, it is best to let Ted's words speak for themselves, particularly because he always chose them so carefully. 

"Al Souza is not the first artist to incorporate found materials into art, endowing them with a higher purpose, nor is he a pioneer in his efforts to explore mundane objects of a particularly banal quality for hidden layers of meaning. Appropriation has been in the air for a long time, especially since the revolutionary days of Robert Rauschenberg's Combine series and Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes and Campbell's Soup Cans.

The significance of Al Souza's work lies elsewhere. His training as an aeronautical engineer and his previous occupation as a helicopter designer have afforded him a unique [aerial] perspective as well as a heightened capacity for innovation. Since becoming an artist in the mid-sixties, he has devised a way of making art that uses recycled imagery to build complex structures of pictorial meaning based on the addition, subtraction, and layering of visual information...  How does Al Souza challenge himself, as well as us? He does so first by employing a medium that is truly universal.

While people who have never painted have a limited understanding of the medium, nearly everyone has some exposure to jigsaw puzzles--an infuriatingly laborious yet ultimately rewarding leisure activity. Putting together a complicated puzzle is a memorable experience. One ferrets through masses of tiny fragments to recreate a preconceived, albeit debased image of nostalgia or exoticism. The fact that the reassembled image relies upon airbrushed photography may be ironical but it takes away none of the satisfaction in solving the puzzle.  

A second challenge arises from this paradox: what sort of dialogue can the artist develop within himself--or with the art viewer--relying solely upon the discarded remnants of commercial art? In Souza's case the possibilities are considerable due to the transformation he makes of the medium. The finished work, at least from a distance, becomes an exercise in picture-making with all of the attendant formal concerns rather than a simplistic collage of puzzle pieces.

Souza himself does not put puzzles together and rarely buys ones that are not already assembled, at least partially. On his excursions to small towns where puzzle-making thrives, he prowls the aisles of discount and thrift stores and cleans the shelves of boxes that he holds up to his ear and shakes for the sounds of already assembled parts. His work begins intuitively and largely at random. Sections of assembled puzzle parts lie before him and from each he selects a vignette--sometimes a color, at other times a motif or figure. He builds these fragments into sublime compositions, enlivened by crossing diagonals, spiral curves, and overlapping orthogonals and regularly punctuated by fields of dappled color and light. The former conveys a sense of rhythm and the latter relieves the movement with moments of pure feeling or mood.

Comic strips and cartoon fantasies constitute one body of work; architectural structures, such as bridges and roofs--local and foreign as well as rural and urban--inform others.  In a puzzle is a metaphor for art, Al Souza creates a language suited to his own way of thinking... His jigsaw puzzles are contributions to a new genre of art which is neither abstract nor figurative. Like so much electronic media today, his art operates in the intermediate zones of communication. The process is visceral, not unlike Christ's apostle Thomas who withheld his conversion until he had inserted his fingertips into the Savior's wounds--a lesson that Al Souza gladly imparts to any aspiring student of art".

Source:
Al Souza: The Assembled Image, intro. by Edmund (Ted) P. Pillsbury, Ph.D., Pillsbury Peters Fine Art, Dallas, Texas, 2000, pp. 2-3).          


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