Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jimmy Descant at the Ogden Museum


He often haunted flea markets and rummage sales, and with his leather jacket and shades Jimmy Descant looked more like a musician than a visual artist. Then his retro-futurist rocketship sculptures cobbled from vintage appliance and car parts began turning up at emerging artist galleries, and he called himself “Rocket Man,” which fit his hip persona. His early work was always fun but more cool than deep, more pop than profound. When Katrina struck he lost his home and studio, and like many orphans of the storm he wandered, finally settling in Colorado. Flash forward six years and he now has a show at the Ogden Museum, and while the Ogden has always had a populist flair, his recent wall sculptures based on the “shape” of Louisiana, both geographically and figuratively, stand on their own.

More urbane than many other self-taught artists, his works mingle the aura of the past with acerbic social commentary. Louisiana Family Farm (Angola) is a miasma of colorful old electrical parts, telephones, crucifixes, handcuffs, dials, gauges and plastic praying hands all mounted in orderly anarchy on a board in the shape of Louisiana. And like the state itself, it's a mixture of sweetness and irony, nostalgia and strangeness. Nights of Drunk Driving in the days of K&B is a tartly amorphous evocation of his Chalmette adolescence complete with old K&B beer cans, chrome trophies and hood ornaments, window cranks and chicken bones all arranged with the taxonomic precision of a hex. Promised Land, top (detail),  is comprised of objects including family keepsakes salvaged from the flood. We N.O., bottom, expresses solidarity with tsunami ravaged Japan, while another features an old photograph of Jimmy Swaggart in a rusty frame encircled by a halo of mouse traps, gears and chicken bones in a metaphysical gumbo. Like the recent exhibition at the Pearl, or the Music Box performance, or Dawn Dedeaux's Prospect.2 piece, most of these works convey a surreal sense of place. As Descant puts it: “I live and create in Colorado, but I will always be a New Orleanian." ~Bookhardt

THE SHAPE OF LOUISIANA: Assemblages by Jimmy Descant, Through April 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,