Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scott and Davenport at Arthur Roger

“This is the only city I have ever been in where, if you listen, the sidewalks will speak to you.” So said John Scott, the late “gentle giant” of the New Orleans art world. A son of the Lower 9th Ward who spent decades on the Xavier University fine arts faculty, Scott distilled the sonorities of our streets into works that, like his city, encompassed both the gritty and the sublime. Sacred Music for Sonny Stitt, top, is all poise and grace as a pair of kinetic metal sculptures comprised of delicately balanced circles and rods seem to ceremonially greet each other. Painted in the bold colors and patterns of traditional sub-Saharan fabrics, they evoke the African ideal of Ashe' -- the commanding inner coolness he associated with great musical savants like its modern jazz saxophonist namesake. Foodstore, top left, is a 2003 woodcut of ramshackle shops on a street strewn with wreckage. A visual parable of chaos and neglect, it fuses expressionistic grit with mute echoes of the troubled jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden's shrieking cornet. For Scott, that alternation of the chaotic and the sublime was the yin and yang of what he called “jazz thinking,” the improvisation method of his creative process. Here, the way Foodstore anticipated Hurricane Katrina's tumultuous fury was nothing short of prophetic. 

“Dapper Bruce Lafitte” was born Bruce Davenport but assumed the name of the housing project where he grew up. A self-taught artist who began drawing as a five year old, he created hieroglyphic - like depictions of high school marching bands in response to the ominous quiet of Nola's deserted post - Katrina neighborhoods. As street life returned, his obsessive bird's-eye views morphed into complex, quilt-like compositions of streets, parks and byways populated by Mardi Gras Indians and colorful indigenous figures. Laced with scribbled social critiques and self-praise, his eloquently pithy works are now internationally exhibited and represented in major art collections. ~Bookhardt / John T. Scott: His Legacy: Prints and Sculpture by John T. Scott; R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr.: Artwork by Dapper Bruce Lafitte, Through Sept. 23, 2017, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.