Monday, April 20, 2009

Strickland at Cole Pratt, Meehan at Good Children

One of the great contributions of cultural modernism has been its recognition of anonymous public spaces as places of poetry in their own right. That much is evident in two shows on view at local galleries. Alabama-based painter Stephen Stickland depicts vistas with figures on streets and beaches that exude a detached, cinematic quality. With titles like HUMIDITY, OPEN SPACE and INTERSECTION, below, they are painted deftly yet atmospherically, in much the way that Walker Percy implied, as well as described, human interactions. In THROUGH THE CROWD, top, his figures, seen from elevated angles, appear on streets reduced to people, pavement and pigeons as well as the space between them-- the air itself--which suggests its own palpable presence.The beach scenes are somewhat more personal. HUMIDITY is a two-panel sequence in which regular folks frolic in the tepid surf on a beach not unlike Gulf Shores. Here the flesh is fleshier and the salty air is denser, a clear, gel-like substance that unites them for the moment in a state of blandly placid contentment. Walker Percy would be pleased.Nola-based Alisoun Meehan’s large pastel paintings of New York’s Chinatown are more turbulent as the area's hubbub is reflected in shop windows filled with the carcasses of slaughtered animals amid flashing neon. In CHEF GRAFFITI, a window filled with rows of hanging poultry reflects the pulsating chaos of shoppers and traffic as well as the brick tenements across the street. Such scenes are ordinarily the domain of photorealism, but Meehan's pastels are more stylized.
Painting like CHINESE PIGS ON MOTT ST., in which slaughtered pigs are piled on a palette, or CAMBODIAN CHICKENS, in which the plucked carcasses of long-necked birds await their culinary fate, suggest raw, wide-screen equivalents of Dutch baroque still life paintings, a genre that graphically contemplates the darkly symbiotic relationship between mortality and well being. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Stephen Strickland: THROUGH THE CROWD
Through May 3
Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St. 891-6789
Through April 23
Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 975-1557
Expanded from Gambit