You see river trash, they see ... psychedelic gnomes?

Dough MacCash, THE TIMES PICAYUNE - NOLA.COM, May 15, 2022

There are only a few days left to catch the “Saturater” exhibit at the Ten Nineteen gallery on Erato Street. But try not to miss it, because it’s one of those breakthrough shows, where an artist — or in this case an art team — first makes their mark on the New Orleans art scene.

Not that Felici Asteinza and Joey Fillastre haven’t been making marks already. They’ve been making millions of them. Their decorative murals, which you may have seen at the Loyola branch of the public library, the Jamnola art experience in the Marigny, the District Donut shop on Harrison Avenue or the Starbucks on Elysian Fields, are covered with dots and dashes, and dots and dashes, and more dots and dashes.


The brush marks radiate in circles, like fireworks, or the petals of a chrysanthemum. Something about the popping pattern is irresistibly uplifting, like the bubbles in Champagne. That’s the art team’s intention.


“Mostly, we want people to be happy,” Asteinza said of the effervescent style.  Because the patterns are perfectly abstract, Fillastre added, “the person looking at them is the star.”

One of their cheerfully abstract, pastel-hued murals is painted on the outside of Ten Nineteen. Inside, the duo has taken their playful abstraction to a whole other level. Asteinza and Fillastre, who call themselves the Milagros Collective, apply paint to their canvases and sculptures like little kids smearing grape jelly on the menu at Denny’s. Anything goes, nothing requires repeating, and there’s no going back.


The colors and textures are all so sweet and sticky, it’s like a visual sugar high. But Asteinza and Fillastre tame the giddiness and goofiness with transcendent technical skills, like Jerry Garcia playing cartoon music.

The comic exuberance of Asteinza and Fillastre’s art reaches its apogee with their “Crud Buddies” series, a collection of misshapen plastic foam blocks found along the Mississippi River that they’ve painted up like psychedelic amoebic  gnomes … or something like that. Fillastre said the water-worn forms are abundant along the river in Algiers, the Fly and elsewhere. Who knows where they come from?


“We immediately saw them as art objects,” Fillastre said.


Back in 2019, when the art duo began collecting Crud Buddies, they were satisfied gluing googly eyes to the foam shapes to give them personalities. But in time, they’ve become elaborate creations, with overlapping layers of colors and patterns, plus handmade ceramic eyes, lips, buckteeth and other individualistic accoutrement. Fillastre said that he and Asteinza view them as having similarities to both Pet Rocks and Beanie Babies.


They also view them as somewhat sinister, since the abundant foam plastic litter along the river indicated “petro trash and micro plastic pollution,” Fillastre said. One-quarter of the proceeds from the sale of the sculptures — which range from $45 to $2,250 — goes to an ecological charity.


Asteinza, 35, and Fillastre, 34, are Florida transplants who settled in New Orleans permanently three years ago. This is their first solo exhibit. The gallery, 1019 Erato St., is open Thursday through Saturday (May 19-21) from noon to 5 p.m. The exhibit closes with a public reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.