Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barsness and Gunning at Roger; Flisiuk at Barrister's

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James Barsness is an amazing painter, but his artistic vision is so quirky it's almost cryptic. Here the world's myths and religions are intricately woven into convoluted painterly mashups that suggest a psychedelic cartoon version of the Gnostic Gospels --or the Bhagavad Gita in works like HANUMAN'S RESCUE, above, where the Hindu monkey god occupies a compositional mosh pit with elephants and metaphysically suspect characters. If Barsness' bravura way with paint draws you in, his  perverse nihilism may creep you out; WEIGHT LOSS JESUS depicts humanity's savior looking fey and peaked as pervy mutants do weirdo pervy mutant dances on and around his supine form, while in ADAM AND EVE the Garden of Eden looks more like Br'er Rabbit's proverbial briar patch as more pervy mutants and a serpent wearing horn-rim glasses cavort through the thicket like demons on doomsday. Ultimately, all we can really say is that, while it's hard to fathom exactly what Barsness is doing, we can probably  conclude with some certitude that he does it very well.

When it comes to sheer weirdness, the only currently available comparison can be found in Marcel Flisiuk's paintings at Barrister's. They may also creep you out, but at least he doesn't mess with religions, focusing instead on Nola as it appears to his peculiar Polish expat sensibilities. Imagine a Franz Kafka version of the French Quarter populated by golems and gremlins, and you've got the general idea. For instance, JAMMED, left, his vision of Vieux Carre streets clogged with blocky vehicles and zombie drivers, suggests a futurist nightmare by a Creole Stanislaw Lem. And then there's his his hallucinatory CITY OF EDEN painting of a dystopian Nola cityscape, above, a strangely complex work by an artist whose novel vision is more idiosyncratic than most.

Back at Arthur Roger, Simon Gunning's paintings and drawings look picturesque, but they also withstand deeper scrutiny because he has, over time, mastered the rendering of how varieties of light interact with local waters and the life forms they engender. Throw in the massive, sometimes moldering, industries along the river and it's an exotic mix that pushes beyond the limits of literal realism, and indeed it is hard to think of any artists today who display a more lucid way with the dynamics of sea, sun, and occasional incandescence, as they appear in this swampy coastal region. ~Bookhardt
POSTCARDS FROM PLAQUEMINES: Paintings and Drawings by Simon Gunning; PAINTINGS: New Paintings by James Barsness, Through June 25, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;
NEW WORK: New Paintings by Marcel Flisiuk Through June 11, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506;

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Goldfinch, Lindsley and Shaw at Du Mois

Our Lady of Temptation by Jessica Goldfinch

When Samuel Johnson said "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," he wasn't rebuking actual  patriots, just opportunists hiding behind the flag. Symbols and icons have always been, well, iconic, and Jesse Shaw takes them on in linoleum block prints such as his WAR ON TERROR, left, a kind of ballistic-expressionist freak show with masked jihadists, Abu Ghraib inmates, Osama bin Laden and oil barrels orbiting around a Cheneyesque figure clutching a gas nozzle like a weapon. In less skillful hands this could seem sophomoric, but Shaw has a keen killer instinct and wields a sharp linoleum knife as we see in his AMERICAN RELIGION depiction of apocalyptic conditions as televangelist types in suits spew filth from every orifice, while AMERICAN SPORT (detail below) is a kind of bestiary where race horses and fighting cocks compete for attention with female body builders striking poses in baroque graphical grottoes festooned with performance enhancing pills, syringes and extruded clitoro-penile filigree as superheroic boxers beat each other to a pulp and race cars blast off into oblivion. In this show, Shaw skewers everything from consumerism and the military to sports and funeral parlors in densely patterned prints so acerbic they make George Grosz look like a piker. (Click images to expand.)

American Sport (detail) by Jesse Shaw

Jessica Goldfinch tweaks iconic figures by emphasizing their human aspect in a series of small paintings and Shrinky-Dink icons that imbue mythic symbols with human frailties.  So OUR LADY OF TEMPTATION features a Madonna with a fiery Sacred Heart that is actually an apple with an unusually anatomical core, top, but her ALLEGORY EMPTIED Shrinky Dink icon, left, is mythic with a twist as a blindfolded classical female water bearer with a serpentine abdominal scar empties her amphora into the void. SACRED HEART OF THE SELF CONTAINED looks almost normal until you see the little serpents writhing  amid an anatomical tangle of blood vessels. Others update baroque and classical imagery with tattoos or cutaway anatomical views in an investigation of the archetypes that we ordinarily take for granted--at least until Goldfinch recasts them in a new light.  All this is complemented by J. David Lindsley's sculptures such as RESTRAINT, below, in which a couple of  life size cast glass arms wrapped in barbed wire effectively evoke the passionate, if not always coherent, protests gripping the world today. What all three artists convey is a sense that symbols not only matter but should be subjected to a healthy dose of  skepticism lest the demagogues among us subvert them to their own dubious agendas. ~Bookhardt

SOME RESTRICTIONS MAY APPLY: Work by Jessica Goldfinch, J. David Lindsley and Jesse Shaw, Through June 5, Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Louviere + Vanessa at A Gallery for Fine Photography; Dan Tague at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery


Money ain't what it used to be. But then, it probably never was. Like love or health, it is never adequate unless there is enough of it, so perhaps it's no surprise that at least a few artists are making their own and incorporating it in their work. Marrero native Dan Tague reworks paper currency into ironic social commentaries in prints comprised of dollar bills that have been maniacally folded and flattened so the words are scrambled into phrases like Reality Sucks or even We Need a Revolution, above left, to create a whole new genre: radical monetary origami. Here convoluted textures and precise execution transform prints that might have been merely stunt-like into visual poetry with a punch line. Most of the other works--for instance a large, rather slapdash, mostly black and white painting of the famous image of the Marines raising Old Glory at Iwo Jima titled Corporate Reality--are more glibly typical of his “epater la bourgeoisie” provocation mode. Whatever. More thoughtfully ironic is his The Revolution Will Be Tweeted remake of an old Mao-era poster of the beaming Chairman hovering over a cadre of Revolutionary Guards waving smart phones instead of Red Books, bottom, but his currency series is still the main attraction here. It even became a self-fulfilling prophesy when collectors, including the Whitney Museum, bought some. So there you have it: do-it-yourself dollars. What could be more American than that?

 Iconoclastic local artists Louviere + Vanessa employ currency as “objets trouves” in their large photographic mixed media prints in this Counterfeit show, distilling the aesthetic content of the engravings found on the paper money of faraway places in works like His Eyes Crashed Upon the Frightened Shore, top, in which the tiny engraved head of a Bengal tiger from an Indian banknote appears vastly enlarged. Ditto The Stampede Toward Death Left Life Feeling Low, above, a kind of revolutionary scene imprinted with institutionalized anarchic passions. Printed on gold leaf, these works look more luminous than glitzy, with cracked and pigmented patinas suggesting the effects of time and abrasion in images that seem to glow with an eerie inner light. Daguerreotypes employed silver to achieve similar effects, and these works seem equivalently  alchemical, both technically and poetically. Not content with international currency manipulation, Louviere + Vanessa have given us a whole new approach to the gold standard. ~Bookhardt

COUNTERFEIT: Mixed Media Photographic Works by by Louviere + Vanessa Through June 30, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313;
MAY I HAVE A REVOLUTION PLEASE: New Works by Dan Tague Through June 1, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471;

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Odd Twists at the Ogden Museum: The Unhappy Pairing of Walter Anderson and John Alexander

One of the most admirable things about the Ogden Museum was always its insightful way of presenting artists in a context that revealed how they were influenced by—and influenced-- their surroundings. Or at least, such was the case until it staged this infelicitous dual exhibition of Walter Anderson and John Alexander. Despite related origins and subject matter, it is hard to imagine two more disparate and less complementary artists. Born in New Orleans in 1903, Walter Inglis Anderson evolved into a hermit in Ocean Springs, MS, spending long stretches of time communing with nature on uninhabited Horn Island in the Gulf of Mexico. A solitary mystic with an artistic vision as singularly ethereal as Van Gogh's, he once walked across China to Tibet in the middle of Mao Zedong's revolution. He had a psychically complex personality that caused him to shun not only the limelight in particular but people in general, yet he had a profound empathy for wild creatures in their native environment, which he painted in prismatic watercolors that seemed to tap into the luminous subliminal patterning of a living and breathing universe, a world of pulsating ambient energies manifest as color and light. All this presents a stark contrast to John Alexander.

Born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1945, John Alexander moved to New York in 1979. Once a neoexpressionist, he now considers himself a naturalist, a painter of decorative conversation pieces like the ones seen here. Instead of wild world mysticism, he gives us something more like an afternoon at an upscale zoo, including an occasional wine glass in his animal compositions, above, or even the cross-dressing monkey below--one of the more extreme examples of animal studies that tend toward the anthropocentric. Even his more conventional renderings of birds and other critters sport quasi-cartoonish expressions, causing them to resemble recent escapees from classical children's stories like Wind in the Willows and, taken in isolation, there is of course nothing wrong with that.

Walter Anderson also did occasional illustrations for fanciful stories, but the difference is that when he tried to be decorative his results were often transcendental if not mystical, whereas Alexander comes across as glib even when he's trying to be serious. Worse, his extroverted canvasses can overwhelm this rather muted selection of Andersons, a group that includes many small watercolors on typewriter paper like the blue crab and thistle, top, or the snake at left, so it's like trying to hear a soft spoken poet above the din of a noisy cocktail party. But Alexander has overreached before. He once scored a retrospective at the Smithsonian only to receive scathing reviews like the one in the Washington Post titled The Overripe Fruit of John Alexander's Labors. And then, when it traveled to Texas, the Houston Press billed it: Alexander the Mediocre.  This too stands in stark contrast to Walter Anderson who, during the centennial of his birth in 2003 was given a justly deserved and long overdue Smithsonian retrospective that received rave reviews from the Washington Post, which compared him to Vincent Van Gogh and John Marin (although the American psychedelic transcendentalist Charles Burchfield might have been the most appropriate analog of all).
Despite all that, a better contextualized Alexander show at the Ogden might have made sense had he been paired with  someone like Dallas artist David Bates, who, while a better, more sensitive and consistent painter, shares a related interest in nature and expressionistic brush strokes. Or even the opportunistic and facile “father of Texas painting,” Julian Onderdonk, famous for his late 19th and early 20th century landscapes overflowing with bluebonnets--the Texas state flower-- like toast overladen with blueberry jam, in an appeal to Lone Star state patriotism that must have been highly effective as a marketing strategy. But Walter Anderson? The Van Gogh of the Gulf? No. There is no way that makes any sense at all. Both Henri Matisse and George Rodrigue, the Blue Dog artist, occasionally painted figures in landscapes, but that doesn't mean they would benefit from being exhibited together. The same, unfortunately, holds true here. ~Bookhardt

Father Mississippi by Walter Anderson, 1963
ONE WORLD, TWO ARTISTS: Works by John Alexander and Walter Anderson, Through July 24, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600;

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hypothetical Development: Rendering the Implausible


We have all seen the signs. They depict bold, soaring new structures soon to arise from desolate sites. Most never happen. Among the more notorious was the shining Buck Rogers facade of the Trump condo tower that eventually vanished like a mirage, as did many others. Some cratered in the real estate crash, but others were pipe dreams from the start, the entrepreneurial equivalents of poetic license. Elaborate exercises in futility, they did however inspire a new civic enterprise, the Hypothetical Development Organization, which takes development to the next level by designing projects that everyone knows in advance will never happen. That eliminates the awful ritual of getting people's hopes up only to have them dashed yet again. Instead, these apocryphal projects serve an uplifting purpose by existing only in the imagination, which is actually all professional real estate developers give us anyway, only their visionary exercises are hopelessly hobbled by having to appeal to financial backers and bean counters without a poetic bone in their bodies. Unfettered by fiscal gravitas, these hypothetical developments exist on the more ethereal level of thought forms that appeal to, or even challenge, our collective urban imagination. So here a ghostly CBD building becomes a glossy, mirror glass-clad “Museum of The Self,” bottom, where a familiar sculptural “thumbs up” icon on the facade inspires passing Facebook users to instantly “like” what they see. A theatrical facade on lower Magazine serves as a “Loitering Center” in counterpoint to all those “no loitering” zones about town.

There is even a “Theater of Escape,” top, offering to transport travelers to imaginary realms via certifiably nonexistent technologies. Such services aren't cheap, but consumers can cash in their karma at “Karmalot,” above, which looks like a futuristic storefront from hell. Unlike most ordinary buildings, hypothetical developments arise from the inner landscape of those poets and dreamers who meander aimlessly on foot or bicycle, or gaze sagely through the windows of streetcars at structures only they can see. ~Bookhardt 

HYPOTHETICAL DEVELOPMENTS: Renderings of Improbable Architecture, Through May 7
Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032;