Sunday, May 21, 2017

Jim Sohr at New Orleans Art Center; Sean Starwars at Barrister's Gallery



One of the more enduring art world myths is that right wing presidents provoke a backlash of creative bohemianism. Dubious at best, it is doubly dicey if the president is weirder than than Salvador Dali and more nihilistic than the Dadaists. On the other hand, American gothic weirdness has long lurked in small towns like Waukesha, Wisconsin, from which a young misfit named Jim Sohr fled to Nola in the 1960s. Legal indiscretions landed him in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, where he took up art and became the visionary he is today. Some of his older works seen here reveal how only a modern Hieronymus Bosch from Green Bay Packers cheese-head country could have anticipated the madness we now face. Reflecting an aesthetic shaped more by Wurlitzer jukeboxes than Picasso, Plugs, top, previews a retro-futurist America where electronic aliens inhabit massive warehouses in a painting that predated Amazon.com and internet conspiracies about UFOs and the New World Order. In Birds and Ladies, lonely blonds with haunted eyes populate a scene that presaged white Middle American alienation. It's a sensibility that contrasts sharply with many residents' atavistic view of the upper Midwest as the kind of mythic Nordic Valhalla seen in Sohr's painting, Bathers, above left, and a far cry from 3 Greens, a scene in which pointy-eared space aliens have taken over grandma's bedroom, or Eep Snorp, below, which anticipated the tendency of digital technology to conflate everything including hearts and porn, insects and electrons, into a swirling vortex of out of control computer code. Once thought impossibly otherworldly, Sohr's visionary views have become increasingly, if disturbingly, familiar over time.
 

Laurel, Mississippi, artist laureate Sean Starwars' elaborate woodcut prints hark to the sensationalist sensibilities that, along with guns and Bibles, define much of the Middle American mindset. Now that all of the above have come raging to the forefront of the news cycle, his even more boldly lurid new prints like Robot, left, a demonic automaton from hell, seem more relevant than ever. His Single Mothers print with wolf-men ogling flirtatious rabbit-women is a sign of the times, while Toilet Devil captures Bible Belt America's freak show soul in psychedelic Mexican colors that are perfect for a period when anti-Hispanic politicians seem intent on turning America into a banana republic. ~Bookhardt /  The Artist's Muse: Jim Sohr Retrospective and Group Exhibition, Through June 3, New Orleans Art Center, 3330 St. Claude Ave. (707) 779-9317; Monstruos Diabolicos: Woodcut prints by Sean Starwars, Through June 3, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.