Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bahama Kangaroo, Jamie Solock, Hunter Thompson and Ryn Wilson at the Front

It is often said that no one really knows what to expect from the St. Claude Arts District galleries. If traditional art galleries typically have to work within the constraints that affect other small businesses, St. Claude's co-op spaces seem more likely to reflect the collective whimsies of the artists who own and operate them. Volunteer labor and lower rents allow for experimental and diverse programming, which gets multiplied at The Front, where four separate but connected rooms ups the odds for encountering the unexpected. Two Japanese artists currently command the first room. Yukako Ezoe grew up in America and Japan, and her mixed media concoctions, influenced by comic art and Hispanic murals, sometimes suggest the sacred ritual objects of a tribe of Latino punk voodooists. Naoki Onodera blends comic art influences into flat, slinky figures painted as if navigating a geometric universe, and together their visual quirks are collaboratively blended into their inexplicably coherent Bahama Kangaroo series (eg Punks Never Die, left). Asian connections also appear in the next room, where a virtual video collaboration between the Front's member artists and the Tokyo Art Lab is under way.

In the third room, a show called Thirds features work by Lindsay Preston Zappas whose flat, yet deliriously discombobulated, color marker paintings on paper (see Parrots and Cheetahs, below) suggest what out of body experiences at a zoo might be like. Jamie Solock's stop-sign shaped graphic sculptures are also deviously challenging for their intimation of nihilist mind control experiments, and recent transplant Hunter Thompson's neo-Fauve oil paintings (Untitled, above) hint at the curious shifts in perspective that ensue when a digital artist goes retro. Meanwhile in Room Four, Ryn Wilson's eerie color photos recall 1970s experimental cinema forays into femme-centric film noir in works like Kiss of Death, (top). Spanning odd corners of time and space, The Front's current offerings are united mainly by their diversity and unpredictability. ~Bookhardt         
 Bahama Kangaroo: Mixed media by Yukako Ezoe and Naoki Onodera, Thirds: Mixed Media by Hunter Thompson, Lindsay Preston Zappas and Jamie Solock, FATHOM (MCMLXXVI): Photography by Ryn Wilson, Through June 8, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 301-8654.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fox at Boyd Satellite; Brainard at Cole Pratt

Drag Queens in the Rain by Elizabeth Fox

What happens when a lady artist who spent most of her life in the tropical South moves to the frigid far north? If longtime New Orleanian Elizabeth Fox's paintings are any guide, it's a period of adjustment that can be full of surprises. While much of her past work reflected this city's tropical languor, her new home, Maine, has long been a bastion of austere New England attitudes--but this may be changing as we see in Drag Queens in the Rain (pictured). Drag queens gathered like bevies of colorful tropical birds are a common French Quarter sight, but it's disorienting to see them outside a rustic north country cabin. Another painting, an ice fishing scene, looks traditional at first, but a cutaway view reveals a bag of money on a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice--a reminder that Maine is now a hotbed of heroin distribution. Fox's dreamlike views of office workers, based on her years at a prominent local law firm, provide continuity, yet, if her typically slinky office babes and ambitious metrosexual males sometimes look a little lost in their new environs, this may also be a reflection of the Pine Tree State's 21st century identity crisis. In these works, Fox's flair for social commentary seems as sharp as ever. 

The atmospheric qualities of particular places can sometimes be oddly psychological. In Barbara Brainard's monoprints at Cole Pratt -- images reflecting her views of the city as seen from her bicycle -- the human presence is implicit, appearing as just emptied garbage cans scattered in the street, or as a ramshackle old building comprised of countless additions that make it look like a kind of human hive. Looming over it all is the blazing summer light filtered through the city's gelatinously humid air, and here nature itself appears as a colorfully unpredictably character that we dare not ignore. ~Bookhardt

Played to Win: Paintings by Elizabeth Fox, Thru June 3, Boyd Satellite Gallery, 440 Julia St., 899-4218; City in Mind: Monotypes by Barbara Brainard, Thru May 31, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789        

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Michel Varisco at Octavia, Daniel Minter at Sorensen

After spending many years documenting the splendors and struggles of our wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico, Michel Varisco has shifted her focus to a new perspective on the world's waterways. Her Fluid States expo at Octavia reveals unusual views of those bodies of water and the life forms they contain ranging from our own aqueous environs to China's turbulent rivers and New Zealand's exotic seascapes. What ties them all together is the beauty of their timeless vistas and the mysteries that dwell beneath their silvery surfaces. In the most macro view, The Color of Water, above, those shimmering surfaces comprise a large and diverse grid of seascapes. When artists create grids, we expect something that scientifically reduces their subjects' implicit drama to a cool taxonomy for cerebral contemplation, but this piece is unabashedly sensual with sublime colors that elucidate each body of water as a separate yet related universe. A more micro approach is seen in Marsh Seedbox, below, named for one of the plants that appear in a view directly into a swamp, where pale, rose-like flowers on serpentine stems rise from the murky depths of a rather Max Ernstian miniature jungle just below the surface. Other works explore everything in between and the magic that is hidden in plain sight in the watery world all around us.

 A related yet different view appears in Daniel Minter's Water Road paintings. We've all heard about the horrors of the slave ships that plied the oceans as their human cargo died in vast numbers from the hideous conditions below deck, but Minter rather shamanistically merges ethereal visions of archetypal African people with the sea's mystical azure aura in images that suggest that all aspects of nature and humanity are ultimately sublime, and that the intermittent horrors of the human condition are the result of our small minded failure to comprehend that universal, yet elusive, reality. ~Bookhardt

Fluid States: Recent Photographs by Michel Varisco, Through May 31, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249; Water Road: New and Retrospective Work by Daniel Minter, Through May 31, Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569.9501. Left: A River Red by Daniel Minter.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lotte Geeven's "Vigor" at the May Gallery

Linked by water in the form of shipping and flooding, New Orleans and the Netherlands share a long history. Our locally invented pumps, built to keep a wet city dry, were long ago adopted by the Dutch, but since then they have excelled in water management while we fell behind until Hurricane Katrina motivated us to adopt some of their techniques. Besides engineers, Dutch artists have increasingly visited, intrigued by the similarities and differences, and although much of their population also lives below sea level, the Netherlands is north European and orderly, whereas Nola is tropical, spontaneous and messy. Dutch artist Lotte Geeven brings scientific tidiness, as well as a cerebral sort of spontaneity, to her massive Vigor installation at May. The product of a two month residency funded by local and Dutch institutions, Vigor is very thorough, with its own print publications including a hefty softcover book and five issue newsletter in addition to the main installation and accompanying video.

That installation, The River, above, initially suggests a 30 x 38 foot swimming pool bisected into a multi-colored bar graph. In fact, those long, rectangular basins of colored water each represents a river that feeds into the Mississippi, bringing its own hues to the Big Muddy, seen here as the widest basin. The accompanying book contains excerpted lines of poetry pertaining to those rivers, while the newsletters document discussions that influenced the installation's conception. The video, top, features a group of people carrying above them a large, mysterious, silvery sphere in a nocturnal meander past the Roosevelt Hotel and on down Canal Street. This purposely ambiguous attempt to insert an alien element into the city's familiar environs reflects a technique sometimes used in psychogeography to cast the defining characteristics of a place into high relief, although here it may have simply been taken for yet another parade. But the ships on the river are also a parade, and Geeven's imaginative investigations insightfully reframe our familiar hometown in a poetic new light. ~Bookhardt

Vigor: Multimedia Installation by Lotte Geeven, Through June 27, May Gallery, Suite 105-2839 N. Robertson St, 316-3474.