Sunday, October 22, 2017

Josephine Sacabo: "Barking at God--Retablos Mundanos" at a Gallery for Fine Photography


The Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector, once said she could speak "a language that only my dog understands." Later, exasperated by her literary exertions, she said "...all that's left for me is to bark at God." Today many people caught between their cellphones and the histrionic 24/7 media cycle feel equally exasperated by the tsunami of verbal and visual noise erupting all around us. For well known photographer and longtime French Quarter resident Josephine Sacabo, a recent rash of graffiti on the old Quarter's walls posed a disruptive contrast to the serene streets around her Mexican home in San Miguel de Allende, where traditional religious images, called “retablos,” set the tone. She wondered if, and how, those contrasting modes of urban expression, one ephemeral, the other eternal, could be reconciled. Her elaborate Barking at God photogravure montage series was the result of her investigation.
    


Angel, left, depicts a Spanish baroque winged figure poised for takeoff on some holy redemptive mission, but its radiant form appears ensnared in a maze of scrawled graffiti that could impede its progress like a flock of geese suddenly sandbagging a Boeing 747 on takeoff. Apparently angels, like the rest of us, are affected by random atmospheric factors. Blasphemy features baroque seraphim, saints and cherubim navigating a churning void studded with obscene words like a flotilla of Catholic sanctity adrift on a churning sea of darkness, but Virgin and Child Between the Walls, above, evokes a miraculous emanation of the Holy Mother glowing amid the graffiti of a gritty Decatur Street wall. Illumination, top,  depicts Saint Scholastica unfazed by the graffiti flames that engulf her in a scene emblematic of what Sacabo calls “the dueling iconographies of the two places I call home. I have no final judgment to make on the subjects. Each expression is presented with it's consolations and it's cruelties. They are what they are and I hope the viewer finds something in them that speaks to what they themselves may have experienced, needed or felt.” ~Bookhardt / Barking at God--Retablos Mundanos: Hand Colored Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, Through Dec. 31, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jose Maria Cundin at Callan Contemporary


What's with all those weirdly wavy Spanish paintings, anyway? Rounded forms can be alluring but only Spanish artists have made them as immortal as Picasso's curvy, convoluted concoctions or Joan Miro's mysterious blobby squiggles – and only Fernando Botero could get away with a chubby Christ in his crucifixion scenes. Jose Maria Cundin, born in Spain in 1938, was an accomplished artist when he landed in New Orleans in 1964. Here his surreal paintings of impish Latin characters quickly found a following. Despite occasional sojourns in Spain, Paris and Miami, he remains a local presence at his sprawling studio compound across the lake in Folsom. Along the way, his figures morphed into vividly colorful clusters of blobs and fragments that retained oddly human sensibilities.

 

In this new show, those blobby forms have begun reverting back into human figures again, at least partially. Maybe it was a nihilist impulse that made him turn blobby in the first place, but the recent rise of nihilistic infantile narcissism in American politics has made even artists look relatively responsible by default, and here Cundin tackles political tackiness in The Supreme Leader, top, a literally larger than life demagogue in gold finery, striking a grandiose pose. His regal abode includes a fat cat grasping a Barbie doll and a mousetrap baited with cash, but his head is a pulsing miasma of incoherent blobs. Maybe America's recent banana republic tendencies inspired Cundin's reprise of picaresque Latin stereotypes like deranged dictators and priests. Non-Denominational Preacher Showing the Way, above, depicts a sanctimonious blob figure clutching a cowed congregant, but Exercises in Yoga (Extreme Levitation) takes a lighter approach to social commentary. Dark Room of the Bourbons depicts ghastly green fragments swarming like demons from the dank dungeons of history -- but the most poignant is The Unqualified Candidate, a view of an empty chair accompanied by a blobby humanoid zombie -- a manic morass of incoherent impulses grasping at an aura of authority that eternally eludes him. ~Bookhardt / The Supreme Leader and Other Ponderables: New Paintings by Jose Maria Cundin, Through Oct. 30th, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stephen Strickland at Cole Pratt Gallery



Have you ever wondered what calligraphic Zen art might look like if it had originated in Alabama? No, of course not, but if you did, the answer might be Stephen Strickland. Ditto abstract art. In his new Cole Pratt expo, the Jackson, Mississippi-born, Mobile, Alabama-based painter once again focuses on crowds in public spaces like beaches or concerts, but if his earlier works were figurative while hinting at abstraction, his new stuff is abstract yet about human figures -- and the spaces between those figures. Abstraction is a time honored tradition, but what makes these unpretentious abstract canvases different from most is their oddly intuitive aura of personal discovery, a quality more typically associated with Zen and self taught artists. For instance, abstract art pioneer Vassily Kandinsky made pristine paintings like avant-garde symphonic compositions, but Strickland's canvases resonate more contrapuntal, almost Caribbean, rhythms.
    
At first glance, Layered Memory, top, suggest a vaguely chaotic array of manic mark making,  as if the prehistoric cave painters had memorialized their own version of a mosh pit, or maybe just a crowded dance hall somewhere in Cuba. Look closely and the marks increasingly evoke human forms,  and the spaces between them suggest percussive rhythms, as if conga drums were somehow part of the mix. Along the Beach, top left, is comprised of an array of pallid earth, sand and cadmium swatches that, while compositionally related, yield a contemplative sense of people gathered together on an anonymous public expanse, yet seemingly alone with their thoughts. In Pale Memory, above, the forms are more ghostly if not amorphous, like specters from mythic notions of the transmigration of souls, or maybe fragments of elusive dreams. I have never met Strickland, but his artist statement says: “My work shows a visual rhythm created by the patterns of crowds and brushstrokes. These regular recurrences evoke more than feelings of sight, but of time, space, movement and sound. When the painting is completed, I hear a new and unique song.” ~Bookhardt / Beneath the Layers: Figurative Oil Naintings by Stephen Strickland, Through Oct. 28, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Lorna Williams at 5 Press Gallery




New Orleans East native Lorna Williams' assemblage sculptures at 5 Press Gallery are intriguing but also kind of eerie. Her mixing of industrial odds and ends with bones, teeth, animal parts and plant specimens may elicit first impressions like “Creole steampunk” or “techno voodoo,” but what makes them eerie is their paradoxical blend of both personal and cultural references that hark to the roots of this city and the diverse peoples who made it. Nola is usually defined by its joyous food, music and visual culture, but the real reason for its existence was all about commerce and industry, colonizers and slaves, in a location where waves of European and Caribbean immigrants came together to create its uniquely Creole culture. Williams' ruggedly complex works ultimately reflect the mysterious psychic and spiritual undercurrents that define this city's flamboyantly complicated history.
    
Educated at top art schools, Williams scored solo shows at trendy New York galleries while still in her mid-twenties, yet her rugged looking concoctions of derelict mechanical and biological objects appear to reflect a deeply personal quest for meaning more than just another calculated “art career.” For instance, Sprung, top, is a constellation of crescents and triangles fashioned from derelict wood, metal and other objects including plaster teeth and an alligator claw. Configured like a veve' or voodoo spirit diagram, it resonates like a techno-pagan altar, or perhaps a schematic reliquary salvaged from the rubbish bins of Crescent City history. Many works reference the body. Cleave(d), top left -- a kind of humanoid head cobbled from machine parts with plaster teeth and a turtle shell skull cap -- evokes a mechanical voodoo zombie, or maybe an underworld spirit from the days when Warehouse District buildings still housed infernal, sooty foundries and machine shops for the shipping industry. Onus, above left, a worn, torso-like tree trunk studded with shiny copper nails, evokes a post-industrial tree fetish, a totem memorial to all the travails, tears and tortuous journeys undertaken by so many who collectively created America's most joyously celebrational city. ~Bookhardt / Lo.cus: New Mixed-Media Works by Lorna Williams, Through Nov. 11, 5 Press Gallery, 5 Press St., 940-2900.