The South has risen again. For years its artists — painters, sculptors and performers alike — have stewed together expressionism, surrealism, naturalism and conceptualism (with goodly doses of photography and pattern painting thrown in), mixing a heady concoction that mirrors and transmogrifies Dixon-siders’ Gothic predilections and tale-telling tendencies. Some of the image-makers might as well be writing books when they go into the studio. Ke Francis (from Mississippi by way of Florida) does write books, but he also paints, prints, sculpts and assembles his way into elaborate accounts of things happening not on but below the surface. He works pretty huge most of the time, even in print media, and certain of his multi-panel paintings take on the structure, not to mention resonance, of altarpieces. Big as they are, they can hardly contain all that’s going on — pictures and symbols and events crowd together, as if all the scenes of an opera were happening at once. A son of the Delta, Francis has let his vibrant storyboards turn dark in the wake of Katrina, but his wry wit and exuberant style stanch any lugubriousness.
Tennessean Andrew Saftel may be a New England native but he’s thoroughly habituated by now to Southern drawl and scrawl. And sprawl — his paintings brim with almost as much incident as Francis’, but Saftel’s moments occur on a small scale inside veritable seas of lambent color and richly weathered texture. While Francis directs us to the goofy energy and comic poignancy of his icons, Saftel directs us around the quiet, ruminative presence of his, deflecting our desire to dig for symbolic meaning. Francis’ figures illustrate his tales; Saftel’s notate his, like intricate pictograms set afloat in visual seas, waiting for context or syntax to draw them back toward one another. Francis’ and Saftel’s work is augmented in this tour of Southern comport by Atlantan Polly Cook’s similarly large but genial, almost comic-book-like ceramic murals. Lowe Gallery, 2034 Broadway, Santa Monica; Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; thru July 28. (310) 449-0184.