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Assembly Required

Two artists give new meaning to ordinary things.

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Souza’s puzzle paintings, as they are called, are layers of actual puzzle pieces that appear as paintings because of their presentation on framed panels, and because the artist positions the pieces as a painter would place brush strokes. Sousa’s conscious decisions to arrange the portions of completed puzzles beside portions of other puzzles are based on conventional compositional strategies such as movement, pattern and texture. Sousa works with the printed puzzles thematically so that there is a visual and conceptual integration. Yes, his medium is unconventional but his mode of operation isn’t.

In “Liberties” the artist unites parts of patriotic-based images from multiple puzzles. Pieced like a patchwork quilt, the photographic images printed on the assorted puzzle parts include an eagle, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the American flag. As a simple photomontage, the assortment is obvious, but as a collection of unfinished portions of jigsaw puzzles, associations deepen. The puzzle form carries with it apparent metaphorical qualities. Especially in “Liberties” the tension between literal fracture and connectedness (as the contour of each piece remains apparent even when connected to other pieces) sheds another light on the theme of patriotism.

Souza’s version of editing and reassembling multiple puzzle images makes for a version of collage that carries a familiar ’60s feel (think James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg). Images in varying scales typically collide or overlap, creating the illusion of motion and depth. In “Hucklebuck” Sousa specifically references the era by using puzzles printed with op art to create a psychedelic collage.

Sousa also capitalizes on the repetition of smaller images to make a whole. In some instances the result is reminiscent of stained glass or mosaic. In others, like “Ring Dings,” Sousa’s repeated circles create a kaleidoscope effect. But the puzzle form stays intact and the unconnected edges of the collaged parts emphasize its game-like origins. Sousa’s familiar medium continually lends a playful edge to his work.

Richard Roth, who is the painting and printmaking chairman at Virginia Commonwealth University, has evolved from a painter into a sort of anti-artist. Rather than finding objects that are refined or rare, he obsessively gathers the opposite, as here at Reynolds where an eclectic collection of cosmetic compacts, gun targets, official forms, temporary commercial signs and monofilament fixtures share gallery space.

Roth’s assortment of aesthetic objects, like the compacts, obviously please the eye more readily than neon commercial signs, for example, but give these common (though strangely alien) things another minute and be ready for a double take. Roth’s frame doesn’t make you want to take the object home, but it encourages a reappraisal of it.

The artist’s collection of forms, at first glance painfully dull, offers an entertaining view of our everyday lives. Roth’s numerous samples include tax, shipping and application forms along with the more unusual “Who’s In the Pew” form and a cake-order form. Dozens of framed examples paint a comic picture of bureaucracy and conventions of life.

By isolating these objects in a gallery Roth doesn’t make them art. He just artfully gives the audience a chance to see them with fresh, objective eyes. Looking at these collections is like hiring a consultant to look at your watch to tell you the time, except more fun. S

Al Souza’s “Recent Work” and “Richard Roth” are on display at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St., through Oct. 25. Al Souza will give a lecture on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m. at VCU’s Art Foundation Building, 609 Bowe St. in Room 535.

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