Sunday, July 14, 2019

Léopold Burthe’s "Angelique" at NOMA

The Riverbend neighborhood's short, bucolic Burthe Street epitomizes the area's sedate, leafy aura as it meanders its 14 block trajectory from the CrossFit Nola fitness center at Leake Ave. by the river, to the Muslim Student Association near Tulane University at Audubon St. where it abruptly ends. Its obscure allure is appreciated by those of us who live nearby, but its newly revealed connection to the glory days of the Paris Salon was unexpected. The New Orleans Museum of Art's recent purchase of Léopold Burthe’s newly rediscovered painting, "Angelique," shines a new light on the street's time shrouded namesake, Dominique Burthe, the artist's wealthy father. Like many children of affluent local French families, Léopold, born in 1823, was educated in Paris. There he fell under the spell of French art star Jean-August Ingres whose influence infuses the virtuoso rendering of Burthe's "Angelique." Ingres even painted a somewhat similar canvas, “Angelica,” also based on the sixteenth-century Italian poem, “Song of Roland” by Ludovico Ariosto, but Ingre's version is a literal view of a white knight rescuing his beloved heroine in bondage, whereas Burthe's version is more psychological. (His other venture into dark mythology, "Ophelia," below, while also eerie still lacks the psychic complexity that makes "Angelique" such a psychically multilayered masterpiece.)

Instead of a classic white knight, Burthe's rescuing hero is a shadowy figure emerging from dark clouds, and if Ingre's heroine seems to be rapturously awaiting her hero, Burthe's heroine appears unsure, or as the unnamed author of a Zürich gallery's description of the painting put it, she seems “resistant” to both the threat of sea monsters and the approaching knight. Both Ingres and Burthe depict the knight astride a hippogriff, a mythic hybrid of a horse and an eagle, but Burthe's version looks more like a dragon. No wonder his would-be lover has cold feet! Here Burthe's magnum opus exhibited at the 1852 Paris salon appears as a precursor to the work of 20th century fantasy artist Frank Frazetta as well as the game series, Dungeons and Dragons, and the recent Game of Thrones TV series – which gives us a lot to ponder next time we find ourselves wandering down Burthe Street. ~Bookhardt / Angelique: A Newly Rediscovered Painting by Léopold Burthe, Ongoing, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Art of the City at Historic New Orleans Collection

"Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina" is the Historic New Orleans Collection's first major exhibition of contemporary art. It is also the inaugural show at their newly renovated  Seignouret-Brulatour building at 520 Royal St. Organized by artist-curator Jan Gilbert and HNOC Chief Executive Officer Priscilla Lawrence, "Art of the City" is a sprawling expo of work by over 70 artists spread over three floors, with most larger works concentrated in the third floor galleries. If the title and the sheer scale of the show seem to suggest a definitive survey of local contemporary art, the reality is far more literal: “Art of the City” is actually focused on this city's urban milieu as interpreted by established artists such as Luis Cruz Azaceta, Willie Birch, Douglas Bourgeois, Krista Jurisich and Gina Phillips as well as cutting edge luminaries like Zarouhie Abdalian, Brandan Odums, Rontherin Ratliff and Carl Joe Williams. Although many works can appear almost lost amid the sheer volume on view, some of the more iconic among them are emblematic of this city's vibrant street life.

In Willie Birch's large sculpture “Uptown Memories (A Day in the Life of the Magnolia Project),” above right, a young, stoop-sitting black man reads a book. Here mysterious symbols cover everything in this back street meditation on youthful dreams arising from mundane realities. Luis Cruz Azaceta's colorful canvas, “The Big Easy,” above right, is an abstract geometric impression of the streets that he says make this city such a “funky, off-kilter, rich environment.” Krista Jurisich's “Cityscape,” above, blends geometric abstraction with Nola's 1980s skyline even as disco and post-disco-era allure dominates Douglas Bourgeois' fantastical painting, “Burning Orchid Nightclub.” In fact, Bourgeois was inspired by the international club scene in general and the late epochal icon, Prince, in particular, but as Louisiana's very own bayou Tintoretto, Bourgeois couldn't help making his swarthy, louche, subjects look like they all had roots in his native Ascension Parish. Only recently has it come out that Prince's parents were both born to native Louisianians -- so somehow it all makes sense? Jeffrey Cook's “Ancestral Guardian” found object sculpture harks to magical African fetishes by way of the local back streets where many of his found objects originated. That theme of magical transcendence is epitomized in Gina Phillips “Fats Got Out,” a large, stitched fabric painting in which the iconic Nola musician arises like a shimmering Creole saint over the troubled waters of an ominously swollen Industrial Canal. ~Bookhardt / Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina, Through Oct. 6, Historic New Orleans Collection, 520 Royal Street, 523-4662. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Josephine Sacabo & NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writers

The well known photographer, Josephine Sacabo, has for some time maintained a relationship with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts writing program. Although words and images are usually considered two totally different forms of expression, the truth is more nuanced. Nothing demonstrates that more than NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writing class taught by Andy Young. If "Ekphrastic Writing" sounds exotic, it is actually an antique Greek rhetorical exercise based on vivid verbal descriptions of a visual artwork. Since Sacabo's studio is conveniently near NOCCA, a local Ekphrastic tradition has evolved that this year resulted in an exhibition at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. Here six NOCCA students, Jillian Chatelain, Katherine Edwards, Maggie Malone, Kristian Palmer, Campbell Smith, and Finn Yekple, displayed their texts along side Sacabo's photographs that inspired them.
If this sounds like another feel good story about an accomplished artist mentoring local high school kids, think again. The writings in this “Shadows In Ink” collaboration reveal a highly developed poetic lucidity. For instance, Finn Yekple's “Obscene Bird of Night” poems are uniquely surreal impressions of Sacabo's Rorschach-like abstractions, themselves partly inspired by Chilean writer José Donoso's novel of the same name. Maggie Malone's fictive journal entries based on Sacabo's ghostly portraits of women, such as “A Geometry of Discord,” top, are verbal vignettes. One involves a mysterious dream about a woman's search for a loved one felt as sensations within her bodily organs. In another, a man is attempting to whistle as he waits for a train. His breath emerges as a cloud of ice and the train does not stop. All six of these these young writers hark to literary history and Sacabo's images, yet all possess a freshness and a singularity of vision that is rare at any age. The result is a collaboration that was illuminating for all concerned. As Sacabo put it, “I am deeply grateful to them for showing me things in my own work I never knew were there.” ~Bookhardt / Shadows In Ink: Images and Texts by Josephine Sacabo and Six New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts Writing Students, Through July 21, New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

St.Lewis and Scheaffer at Martine Chaisson

After a long absence from the New Orleans gallery scene, Louis St. Lewis, the acclaimed pop art provocateur of Raleigh, North Carolina, and former "court painter” to the late king Kigeli V of Rwanda, has once again returned to the city he cites as an inspiration. King Kigeli died in exile in Washington D.C., but his portraitist, St. Lewis, lives on, cranking out flamboyant mixed media works that meld his glitter rock flash and dazzle with his theatrical regard for the past. Here his flair for colorful incandescence is complemented by the neon virtuosity of his collaborator, Raleigh-based glass sculptor Nate Sheaffer. Influences ranging from glam rock to mythology and world history can be seen in “Ashes to Ashes,” where David Bowie appears in a neon suit clutching a glowing neon heart. Next to him stands the figure of Death in the form of a skull wearing a Napoleonic bicorn hat and a regal frock coat topped off with angel wings. Bowie's brooding, perplexed visage still bears traces of face paint from his Ziggy Stardust days as he and Death confront the viewer as the ultimate odd couple.

St. Lewis's sometimes campy and always carnivalesque vision has found a following in Louisiana, where his work appears in numerous private and museum collections. His flair for local popular culture turns up in a number of works including his portrait of Big Freedia as Medusa, as well as in “Angel of Algiers,” left, where a seductive West Bank siren sports a spiky neon halo set off by a glowing neon vortex. In “Absinthe,” the “green fairy” of cocktails appears as a shimmering neon labyrinth. Another work where Nate Sheaffer's glass mastery shines brightly is “Phrenology,” top. Here the old pseudo-science of the human skull is depicted as a neon map of brain regions, most labeled “Me.” It is a comment on our times as well as a glowing example of St. Lewis and Shaeffer's flair for turning so many defining facets of cultural history and modern life into incandescent visual spectacles. ~Bookhardt / All That Glitters: New Work by Louis St. Lewis & Nate Sheaffer, Through June 29th, Martine Chaisson Gallery, 727 Camp, 302-7942.