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Angelbert Metoyer, Artist on the Verge

Metoyer has used red clay from the colony in some of his work. His New York show is a tribute to the Metoyers, and to Coincoin in particular. "I think I'm like her," Metoyer says softly. "I dream about her all the time. She speaks to me with her eyes." The house in the center of his biggest new painting isn't a hut in a West African village, it's the house Coincoin built in Louisiana. The excavation of roots in Metoyer's work is a complex, layered process, dealing with Frenchness, Americanness, and Africanness, but above all, with the cosmos. "At art school," Metoyer says, "they kept reminding me that I was black and kept looking for blackness in my work. That's fine. But what they found was the blackness of the universe." Metoyer's show is called "Dark Energy Splitting the Universe," a quotation from a New York Times headline about antimatter. With its diagrammatic qualities and mathematical underpinnings, Metoyer's work is something he would rather call a scientific exploration than some vague expression of ethnicity.

It's a science with a surfeit of ingenuity and diversity, and at first it looks beautiful but baffling. As with his approach to the art market, though, Metoyer insists that there is a system at work. Behind every apparently random gesture there is a scheme waiting to be decoded. The number of spots, the angle of the lines, the shape of the constellations, have all been meticulously calculated. If the painting looks beautiful, that's only because it works, Metoyer says, in the same way that an organism or an equation works.

The playing cards stuck to a giant mandala canvas were selected according to one of the numerical and musical systems developed in his piles of dog-eared notebooks. Whether or not that system is coherent and knowable, the playing cards have a hypnotizing effect. The aesthetics of the paintings—and the gentle force of Metoyer's personality—carry the work when the mathematics and mythology underlying it seem inscrutable. But before he stuck them to the painting, Metoyer wrote a blessing on the back of each playing card, which may help to explain the system when his works are X-rayed in 500 years' time.

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