Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rose, Stevens, Reichert and Nash at Angela King

Time flies. Days slip by, sometimes almost surreptitiously, until decades have passed. Angela King noticed that recently as she realized that her gallery was 30 years old. She has been its director for decades, starting when it was called the Hanson Gallery and featured work that was to contemporary art what "easy listening" is to FM radio. After buying it from its California-based owner ten years ago, King included art that, while still accessible, has more psychological or spiritual depth. The current Marlene Rose expo of cast glass sculptures is decorous while resonating the timeless aura associated with the African masks, Buddha heads, totems and ancient artifacts. Local art buffs will note some parallels with the cast glass concoctions of local maestro Mitch Gaudet, whose surreal works often feature martyred saints whose suffering on behalf of others reflects traditional Roman Catholic notions of empathy. Both studied glass sculpture at Tulane, but Rose's serene Buddha heads like Purple Lotus Buddha, above, evokes a meditative sort of empathy meant to transcend suffering itself. Royal Street's highly competitive distractions can be daunting, but King's humanistic focus makes her offerings personable.

Belgian artist Eddy Stevens' dreamlike portraits, painted in a magic realist style reminiscent of van Eyck, Lucian Freud and our late, local barfly genius, Noel Rockmore, evoke characters from fantastical fiction while looking oddly at home in the French Quarter. Local artist Aaron Reichert's manically dynamic and sinewy gestural paintings of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein also hark to Rockmore--especially the eerie depth and otherworldly funk that characterized his jazz portraits. But Woodrow Nash's large "African Nouveau" clay sculptures are unlike anything else. With hints of Nubian statuary and traditional West African wood figures, some are rendered in ceramics so vividly hued that they seem almost psychedelic. Despite their prismatic charisma, his figures seem pensive, even reflective, like timeless witnesses to their own history who have been left in stunned silence by what they have seen. ~Bookhardt / Temples of Glass: New Work by Marlene Rose and Mixed Media by Gallery Artists, Through Nov. 13, Angela King Gallery, 241 Royal St., 524-8211.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

India Jacobs, Jeffrey Thurston, Kyle Bravo and Kelly Mueller at the Front

The great thing about the galleries along St. Claude is their unpredictability, the way potential genius is free to experiment. The annoying thing about St. Claude galleries is their unpredictability--not knowing if you'll see something great or half-baked. The Front has four connected spaces where artists can do their thing. This month all four spaces hold work that is actually polished, or at least deftly realized, as we see upon entering and confront India Jacobs' Future Mythologies series of prints and drawings. The recent Tulane architecture grad's work is based on her view of her native Los Angeles as a pricey virtual reality rendition of the American Dream that she distills into sci-fi visions like Destination Airship Mechanics, above, a geometric rhapsody of scaffolds, cranes, slinky tubes and striated spheres rendered in day-glo colors. Similar components appear in Building the American Dream, but here they support an aerial golf course, with helicopters, mysterious domes and surveillance devices hovering over the greens. As in Aerosol and Industrial Waste--a realm where monumental beauty parlor hair dryers and industrial cooling towers stand like Easter Island monoliths--we confront a future based on present tendencies taken to their logical conclusions.
San Francisco native Jeffrey Thurston's ceramic sculptures, left, suggest archaeological artifacts mingled with cityscapes, human bones, and tiles from ancient civilizations, a perspective he says was inspired by the way Bay Area Rapid Transit offers odd, cutaway views of the city. Kyle Bravo's obsessive cartoon series of his and his wife's daily life before and after the birth of their child, below, are touching yet entertaining, a visual diary of their familiar yet wondrous journey. And Kelly Mueller's abstracted views of wild boars and vultures and fishing trawlers at Shell Beach, left, reflect such a knowing, visceral familiarity that it's hard to believe she's a Chicago transplant. ~Bookhardt / Future Mythologies: Revisiting the American Dream: New Work by India Jacobs; This Shifting Vessel: New Ceramics by Jeffrey Thurston; Making Jamie: Cartoon Journal of Childbirth and Parenting by Kyle Bravo; Brand New Atlas: Mixed Media Works by Kelly A. Mueller; Through Oct. 4, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Hispanic Convergence" at the Mexican Consulate; Charles Beau von Hoffacker at Barrister's

This Hispanic Convergence expo at the Mexican Consulate is a local first. With work by over 20 Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Colombian and Cuban artists, Convergence is ultra-eclectic yet noteworthy both for the trans-national leadership displayed by the Mexican Consulate, and for its timing, coinciding with an opportunistically anti-Hispanic and trash-talking politician's insurgent presidential bid. But culture trumps trash talk and this show features many of the psychological, surreal and whimsical qualities long associated with Hispanic art. Standouts include Alana, left, by Ana Gaby Alanis, in which a rapturous woman evokes an unlikely sort of saint--perhaps Our Lady of Lower Life Forms--as frogs, spiders, snakes and scorpions cling to her. Also provocative are Cristina Molina's and Fred Husserl's photographs, Vanessa Centeno's colorful mixed media creations and Jackie Cerise's paintings of nudes and Sacred Hearts. Works by artists on the consulate staff include Belinda Shinshillas' color-field paintings like Cuenca Basin, left, and Aura Maury's photographs -- but perhaps most striking of all is the buoyant and robust cultural leadership displayed by the Mexican consulate itself.

Equally surprising are white New Orleans Police officer Charles Beau von Hoffacker's paintings of young black men whose distressed lives, and violent deaths, define our most troubled neighborhoods. Working with acrylic paints infused with his own formula of pulverized copper, brass and gunpowder, Hoffacker bases his works on social media photos, chosen by his subjects, that reveal a broad spectrum of innocence and menace. Despite occasional gangsta posturing, all reflect a striking degree of objectivity and empathy, and it's clear that Hoffacker is the rare artist--or cop--who tries to relate to the underlying humanity of this volatile subculture. This stark yet compelling exhibition challenges the rest of us to try to better understand the lives of the less advantaged among us. ~Bookhardt / Hispanic Convergence in New Orleans: Group Exhibition by Artists of the Americas, Through Oct. 10th, Consulate of Mexico Art Gallery, 901 Convention Center Blvd, Suite 118, 528-3722; Pitch This, Ya' Heard me?: Mixed-Media Paintings by Charles Beau von Hoffacker, Through Oct. 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Willie Birch, Bruce Davenport, Whitfield Lovell & Gordon Parks at the Arthur Roger Gallery

Black lives matter. All lives matter. Both statements are true, but it is astounding that we are still debating the meaning of those words. We accept equal rights in principle, but things don't always play out that way on the streets. The past still lingers paradoxically in the present, and in Whitfield Lovell's haunting charcoal drawings on wood, images of African Americans from old photographs appear to pose silent questions. In You're My Thrill, a midcentury war veteran clutches a pistol as he sits in a reverie amid a cluster of shell casings. Did he fight for America, or for the promise of America? In Servilis, a group of black Victorian-era maids pose stiffly in dark uniforms behind some  taxidermed crows posed stiffly on pedestals. In America, a stoic black man in a suit seems to recede into the dark woodwork of a fence festooned with American flags. In these and other works, Lovell eloquently explores how America's understanding of black identity remains a work in progress.

Willie Birch's large scale drawings explore the ephemera of daily life in his 7th Ward neighborhood via views of weathered facades like Morning Light on Urquhart Street, left, rusty door hinges, sneakers hanging from telephone wires and other prosaic details. Some seem bleak, but by rendering them in a respectful, evocative manner, Birch transforms long neglected places and things into objects of contemplation that enable more lucid access to their deeper meaning. Nearby, Gordon Parks' photographs of Muhammad Ali working out in the ring, hanging with friends--or behind the wheel of a Caddy in Miami, 1966--take us to an earlier, perhaps more hopeful time, while reminding us of the dynamism his persona so inexorably conveyed. On the opposite wall, Bruce Davenport's curiously hieroglyphic-like drawings feature whimsical views of Ali's exploits in the ring rendered with the contrapuntal whimsy that characterize his well known depictions of local high school marching bands. ~Bookhardt

Seen and Unseen: Coupling: Drawings by Willie Birch; Draw Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee: Drawings by Bruce Davenport; First Impressions: Mixed Media by Whitfield Lovell; Ali: Photographs by Gordon Parks, Through Sept. 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Haiti's Revolution Gave New Orleans to America

It is a little discussed but well established fact that Haitian Free People of Color, along with their local counterparts, were the most seminal influence on what we think of as traditional New Orleans culture. A new book explains the sequence of events that led to thousands of Haitian emigres, including much of Haiti's Afro-Creole professional class, literally doubling this city's population during the early years of the 19th century.

The 1791 Haitian Revolution secured black independence in the former French colony and sounded the death knell for the European slave trade. It also ensured the expansion of U.S. slavery.

By Edward E. Baptist

In 1800, French traveler Pierre-Louis Duvallon prophesized that New Orleans was “destined by nature to become one of the principal cities of North America, and perhaps the most important place of commerce in the new world.” Projectors, visionaries, and investors who came to this city founded by the French in 1718 and ceded to the Spanish in 1763 could sense the same tremendous possible future.

Yet powerful empires had been determined to keep the city from the United States ever since the 13 colonies achieved their independence. Between 1783 and 1804, Spain repeatedly revoked the right of American settlers further upriver to export their products through New Orleans. Each time they did so, western settlers began to think about shifting their allegiances. Worried U.S. officials repeatedly tried to negotiate the sale and cession of the city near the Mississippi’s mouth, but Spain, trying to protect its own empire by containing the new nation’s growth, just as repeatedly rebuffed them. Spain’s stubborn possession of the Mississippi’s mouth kept alive the possibility that the United States would rip itself apart. Yet something unexpected changed the course of history.

In 1791, Africans enslaved in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue exploded in a revolt unprecedented in human history. Saint-Domingue, the western third of the island of Hispaniola, was at that time the ultimate sugar island, the imperial engine of French economic growth. But on a single August night, the mill of that growth stopped turning. All across Saint-Domingue’s sugar country, the most profitable real estate on the planet, enslaved people burst into the mansions. They slaughtered enslavers, set torches to sugar houses and cane fields, and then marched by the thousand on Cap-Francais, the seat of colonial rule. Thrown back, they regrouped. Revolt spread across the colony. More>>