Sunday, June 21, 2009

Barnes at LeMieux

It's an unusual name for an art show. Eschatology is a branch of religious study that deals with endings in general and the Last Judgment in particular. Local artist John Barnes felt it was an appropriate term to use for his current crop of wooden sculptures inspired by old shotgun houses that endured Katrina-related flooding often described as "Biblical." Thanks to the work of numerous visual artists, the classic, dilapidated New Orleans shotgun house has emerged as an enduring icon of local African American life, and Barnes' compact yet intense assemblages further elaborate this legacy.
Abstract in form yet realistic in detail, his wood and mixed media sculptures are curved and vertical, suggesting upended wooden boats as well as ghostly two story structures. It is a form that also evokes the enchanted huts of folk tales as well as the hoods worn by "gangstas" trying to at least partially conceal their identities. Weathered and distressed, they seem haunted by both personal memories and impersonal forces seemingly beyond anyone's control. INEQUITY LOFT TOWERS, pictured, is a gauntly rakish hulk of overlapping shingles and distressed paint. Like most abandoned houses, the interior chambers seem to sag under the weight of accumulated personal histories, the ghosts of former occupants. Barnes' HOODED LILLIPUTIAN GANGSTER series is comprised of similar, but smaller, pieces. Distressed and partially torched, they bear gang graffiti, as well as the "X" marks of houses slated for demolition, like crude tattoos. The drawings suggest detailed schematics for the construction of blight, which is really what these works are all about: the beauty and blight of a city where poetry and tragedy, community and chaos, so often coexist in such close proximity.
ESCHATOLOGY: Recent Sculpture and Drawings by John Barnes Jr.
Through July 25
Lemieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522-5988; www.lemieuxgalleries.com

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