Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bishop and Pavy at Arthur Roger

Jacqueline Bishop's “Human Threads” series of paintings on linen, paper and vintage little girls' dresses reflect her ongoing exploration of how civilization and wild nature affect each other. In an age when natural disasters occur with increasing frequency as global warming continues unabated, works like “Peaceable Kingdom” depict our strained relationship with nature. Here a muddy mound of roses, pitcher plants, pelicans and viny tendrils smolder under a fiery sky where flocks of small birds ply smoky convection currents in an apocalyptic painterly crescendo in what amounts to a capsule history of a planet earth that has seen many beginnings and endings.

In an age of mass distraction it can often be hard to see the forest for the trees even as vast tracts of them burn out of control, but “Ginko,” a kind of camouflage pattern painted on a vintage cotton girl's dress, reminds us that this ancient tree species' resilience enabled it to survive over millions of years since the earth was young, a quality humans might do well to emulate. “Natural History,” top, offers a contrasting narrative in the form of a blue monolith like an iceberg in which the ghostly remains of extinct species are entombed just as Egyptian pharaohs were entombed in their pyramids. By extending linear notions of time and space into a mythic realm, as exemplified by "Black Bayou," above right, Bishop  imbues these works with a deja vu quality that suggests an evolving visionary ecology in its own right.

Francis X. Pavy's “36 Views of the Gulf South,” inspired by Hokusai’s similarly titled woodblock series based on Mount Fuji, effectively illustrates the way south Louisiana's lush tropical nature has inspired the lushness of its culture. Works like “The Moth Where Your Heart Should Be,” a simple yet mysterious composition of marsh grass, moths and hands with crossed fingers, illustrates the almost hieroglyphic fluency of Pavy's work as a kind of visual language that blends coastal ecology with the topography of the psyche in a place where, as Lafcadio Hearn once put it, “all things seem to dream.” ~Bookhardt / “Human Threads:” New Mixed Media Paintings by Jacqueline Bishop; “36 Views of the Gulf:” New Wood Cut Prints by Francis X. Pavy, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

William Monaghan at the CAC

The homing instinct of certain creatures, for instance, swallows returning to Capistrano, is legendary, and Louisianians are no exception. Childhood impressions count, and New Orleans native William Monaghan was fascinated by the machinery where his father worked at Reily Coffee Company. After studying architecture and art at Harvard and Yale, his fascination with machinery endured through his years as a builder and a sculptor in the Northeast. He moved back to New Orleans five years ago, but his most dramatic visit was just after hurricane Katrina when he searched for his mother in waste-deep floodwaters. She survived, but many homes did not, so he founded the Build It Now nonprofit to help local residents build affordable, eco-friendly new homes based on traditional local designs.

His “I-Object” exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center harks to metal construction materials and the machinery that made them. Recalling the gritty found-object assemblage art of the 1960s, untitled works like a magenta rhapsody of twisted steel and metal mesh (detail, top) hark to the soulful aura of distressed and discarded machine parts that served us dutifully before ending up in a scrap pile. Mounted on wood, their monochromatic finishes emphasize ripples of light and shadow on flattened surfaces that resonate a rhythmic, painterly musicality while suggesting a fateful encounter of the Tin Man, from the Wizard of Oz, with a vintage Sherman tank. The sheer force used in the making of metal machine parts gives these works a silent inner pathos that we sense on a subliminal level.

The metal forms that comprise these compositions harks to the early 20th century futurist art movement that embraced disruptive industrialism as an ideal, but the ironic approach of the assemblage artists and found object sculptors of the 1960s anticipated post-industrialism and the decline of the Rust Belt, as we see in a series of Monaghan's prescient earlier works that neatly round out the vision of this Nola native who saw the past and future, not as opposites, but as an ongoing, organic continuum. ~Bookhardt / “I-Object:” Metal Sculpture by William Monaghan, Through Feb. 10, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805     

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Lina Iris Vikor at New Orleans Museum of Art

History just gets curiouser the more you look into it. To most of us, the antebellum slavery era that ended with the Civil War exists as a series of flashbacks to old text books, statues and movies, and some may also recall that the African nation of Liberia was intended to be a home for former slaves. British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor's work recalls its history as an offshoot of the American abolitionists' romantic vision of “the Libyan Sibyl” as a mythic prophetess of the slave trade, but in her large mixed media works, Viktor not only harks to the arcane mysteries of the past but, using herself as a model, morphs into modern time-transcending sibyl who embodies an Afro-futurist notion of boundless possibility. Civilization began in Africa, after all, and if Viktor's gilded baroque invocations of deeply personal possibility recall Austrian maestro Gustav Klimpt's use of gold as an elemental agent of timelessness, her imagery's roots in the Egyptian Book of the Dead suggest a vision in which time becomes an infinitely variable color on the artist's palette, a form of energy that transcends traditional limits through the sheer force of the artistic imagination.
Unfettered imagination and intuition were the babies that postmodernism threw out with the bathwater, but Viktor's exhibit of eleven large works in New Orleans Museum of Art's atrium lobby conveys a sense of boundless resourcefulness in works like “Eleventh,” top, where the artist's retro-Egyptian pose appears integrated into a Liberian tribal map where geographical forms meld seamlessly with the African fabrics she is wearing.

In “First” she reticently gazes backward at a floral grid like a trellis in which time appears as an organic efflorescence, but in “Fourth” reappears as a mythic being who merges the gilded formalism of ancient Egypt with the infinitely shimmering depths of the sub-Saharan world. As Crescent Park and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture lead architect, Sir David Adjaye, recently put it, her work “... crosses confidently across a landscape of science, technology, culture and identity with a timeless elegance and a casual defiance that is definitively modern.” ~Bookhardt / Lina Iris Viktor: “A Haven. A Hell. A Dream Deferred,” Through Jan. 6, 2019, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  See Also: Lina Iris Viktor and the Black Panther Video Controversy.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sacabo at A Gallery for Fine Photography

What if you came home one day and everything was almost, but not quite, exactly as you had left it? Small but pervasive changes can suddenly become disturbing when discovered.  Josephine Sacabo has lived in the French Quarter since the 1970s, but lately when she returned from stays at her retreat home in in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she was jarred by the graffiti she encountered on her daily walks from her French Quarter home to her Marigny studio. She was struck by graffiti tags that seemed far more misogynistic then anything she had ever encountered in San Miguel. As an artist who spent much of her life exploring the poetics of the feminine with the French Quater as a backdrop, the pop-misogynist messaging of the grafitti stuck her as an affront, but because she is an artist motivated by curiosity she decided to transform what she saw into something new, a body of work that involved the direct confrontation of her feminine poetics with the graffiti she found so disorienting.

Although this Tagged series reflects one artist's experience, it also serves to remind us of how artists have historically responded to disorienting times by producing profoundly psychological work ranging from Hieronymus Bosch's disturbing 15th century allegories to Banksy's recent Girl with Baloon canvas that self-shredded upon being sold at auction a few weeks ago. Here one of Sacabo's pensive, poetic nudes appears with the word “Lewd” in large, gloppy grafitti lettering, while another ethereal nude appears with the message “Real Ho Git Down On Da Flo Like A Batch...” scrawled across her delicate skin. The fact that the gangsta rap-style message was likely the work of a white gutter punk subsidized by his family back in suburbia makes the cognitive dissonance all the more peculiar. Sulk, a visual tossed salad of a woman's face and hands assailed by assertive words and graphics recalls German expressionism, but Bigotry, top, completes the transformation of Sacabo's original vision into a new, street noise-inflected hybrid, a visual vortex that comments on the graffiti commentary in a quirky gesture of aesthetic role reversal. ~Bookhardt / Tagged: Photogravures by Josephine Sacabo, Through December, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.