There is something mysterious about Brian Guidry's abstract paintings. Most of the abstract art we normally encounter is associated with modernist ideas, but Guidy's paintings contain hints of things ancient, or at least antique, that couldn't be more different from the existential gravitas of abstract expressionism, the sardonic aura of pop, or the industrial bluntness of minimalism. What sets the Lafayette-based, New Iberia native's paintings apart from traditional abstraction is their atmospheric patina, a somewhat hazy quality that creates an illusion of depth that is more typical of renaissance art than anything associated with modernism. That hazy technique, known to art historians as sfumato, was employed by artists like Leonardo to make their subjects either stand out or recede within their compositions as needed, but it does not come easily; the paint must be meticulously applied in multiple thin layers over time to get the job done.
The mystical geometry of the title piece, Phantom Vibrations, top, is enhanced by an atmospheric aura normally associated with Leonardo-era landscapes, and if that sounds surprising, it may help to know where he gets his subtly vibrant colors. Guidry says they are "sampled from the landscape in South Louisiana; reflections from water, menacing storm clouds and September's exhausted foliage are among the sources I reference." Yet works like Oxizion, left, might just as easily hark to those Native American peyote cults whose visions of misty mountains and stark deserts suggest cryptic diagrams of nature's secrets. Visionary geometry exists in Louisiana as well. If you have ever spent time in the swamps you may have noticed the way palmetto fronds slice the brilliant, humid light into angular wedges of radiance. The power of nature is universal, and Guidry says his approach taps into the "forces and processes that produce and control the phenomena of the material world." In that sense his paintings are places where inner and outer realities merge into geometric vistas where color becomes energy and shapes "suggest portals and slips in time and space." ~Bookhardt
Phantom Vibrations: Recent Paintings by Brian Guidry, Through May 4, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427. Left: Black Gold by Brian Guidry
In the latter 19th century, French author Jules Verne became the literary avatar of a bold new genre: science fiction. Although prophetic, Verne's futuristic inventions were based on the wood, steel and steam technology of his time. Fast forward a century, and his Victorian-era futurism resurfaced in the Dr. Who TV shows, Steampunk fashions and the Automata series of local art exhibitions featuring retro-robotic devices. Automata came to an end when its curator, Myrtle von Damitz, left town, but one of its more iconic artists, Ben Reid, resurfaced at Barrister's Gallery this month. Reid's elaborate wood and metal devices suggest what space junk might have looked like had it originated in the 19th century. They also double as robotic musical percussion instruments when activated. Like Verne's vision of "airships" that looked curiously like airborne sailing vessels, Reid's suspended Mayhem sculpture, top, looks nautical, with frigate-like lines and extruded metal fittings suggestive of mysterious energy sources, maybe early magnetic levitation technology. Flip a switch and all that hardware spins like a dirvish to produce the clamorous percussion of an over-caffeinated bebop ensemble. The similarly kinetic T-Cell, above left, suggests how a satellite might have looked if Queen Victoria had a space program. Seemingly orphaned in time, these mysterious cacophonous objects may be trying to tell us something, but what? According to Reid, their clamorous outbursts only underscore their silence: "It is when they are mute that they say the most about the desire and loneliness of things."
David McPherson's apple paintings in the adjacent pop-up gallery also have something to say, but their message is all about the "apple-ness" of apples. Simply but eloquently executed in grids or stand-alone compositions, their smoothly shining surfaces anticipate the tart sweetness of the first bite as well as evoking the history of desire handed down over millennia since the Garden of Eden. Rendered in a style of obsessive simplicity, they deftly undertake that most daunting of tasks: capturing the essence of something as it actually is. ~Bookhardt
Blip. Repeat: Sculpture by Ben Reid; 179 Apples: Paintings by David McPherson, Through May 4, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.
The mysterious figurative glass sculptures in Sibylle Peretti's I Search in Snow expo at Callan feature young children who seem far removed from the playfully animated kids we normally encounter. As otherworldly as creatures in myths and faerie tales, Peretti's children exist in dreamlike settings they share with sinuous plants and small animals. Deftly rendered in a pale, soft palette of translucent white and magenta kiln-formed glass, they evoke the fantastical inner life we all experienced when we were very young, or perhaps the echoes of that magically boundless time that may reappear in our dreams even now. For Peretti, childhood and dreams are part of nature, and her work has long been inspired by the legends of "feral children" who lived outside human society, a phenomenon that melds modern notions of alienation and the traditional nature mysticism of Peretti's native Germany. Whatever the reason, her kids have the tranced out quality associated with hermits who communicate with wild animals as we see in To Know a Hawk, below, where a rather catatonic looking lad exchanges meaningful gazes with a hawk while others seem to cluster on his chest and shoulders.
In Snowchild, top, a young girl lies sleeping as hawks gather around her, and here the child is inseparable from the wild world. Both works are crafted from white kiln-forged glass that looks almost like Carrera marble, giving them a classical aura that contrasts with their psychological vibe. In the wall pieces, children often appear connected to each other by sinuous magenta vines or silver branches, visual effects that reach their most elaborate fruition in her magical bell jar series. In White Hawk 3, two hawks appear under a grape -like cluster of icy clear glass, and only from certain oblique angles can a child's face be seen in the dome's mirrored rear surfaces. In these and other works, Peretti's children suggest near-mythical creatures whose profound silences enable connections with wild nature and its equivalents in the deep recesses of the poetic imagination. ~Bookhardt
I Search in Snow: New Sculpture by Sibylle Peretti, Through May 31, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; Left: White Hawk 3 by Sibylle Peretti
Last week, influential New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz incited the masses to rebel against the Museum of Modern Art's plans for a new wing. His complaint? Too little wall space for paintings: "We live in a time when power structures are impervious to and imperious about protest. Yet the plan so irretrievably dooms MoMA to being a business-driven carnival that it feels like something really worth fighting against... I’m hearing that old 1980s painting-is-dead attitude rearing its head again. It’s been discredited everywhere else: We all know that painting is merely a medium, a place for the imagination, often a hybrid, and simply one of vision’s tools, not a doctrine." Exactly. Not only has painting remained relevant despite the longstanding predictions of its demise, abstract painting has come back with a vengeance. Which may help explain why a couple of local abstract painters who have been around for decades are looking somewhat au courant these days. Richard Johnson's new abstract-illusionist Altars and Monuments show is splashy and seductive, but everyone will probably see it differently. Here the rich, velvety colors of renaissance religious paintings appear in compositions that exude a secular, electric, pop sensibility. Yet there is something almost metaphysical about works like Altars and Monuments X, top, where a vaguely torch-like central armature engulfed in crimson suggests a Zoroastrian fire temple reduced to a pulsating electronic aura. In other compositions, red heart-like ovoids reminiscent of Roman Catholicism's Sacred Heart symbology seem to melt as colors and forms take on a mysterious life of their own, and it is almost as if the lightning bolts that once symbolized the inscrutable power of the gods had been subsumed into the digital electronics that now surround us and demand our allegiance no less forcefully, yet far more subtly, than the religious regimens of the past.
In Edward Whiteman's Swinging Pendulum exhibition of large scale paintings on reconstructed paper, simple yet potent looking forms sometimes resonate the aura of ancient hieroglyphics painted on stone even as they sometimes also span the ages, resonating art deco and pop sensibilities while maintaining allusions to sacred geometry. For all their decorous allure, Whiteman's latest works are as psychological as Rorschach blots and, like all portentous abstractions, what they have to tell us depends entirely on who we are and how we see them. ~Bookhardt
Altars and Monuments: Recent Paintings by Richard Johnson, Through April 27, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; The Swinging Pendulum: Mixed Media Paintings by Edward Whiteman, Through April 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. Above left: India by Edward Whiteman
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