Sunday, November 19, 2017

Evert Witte at Cole Pratt

The thing about the Dutch is that they are always, somehow, indelibly Dutch -- especially their visual artists. I mean that as a complement. Although the precise realism of Vermeer, the post-impressionist brio of Van Gogh and the bold yet orderly abstraction of Mondrian seem very different, look again -- the common thread is their pristine lyricism, a lucidity tinged with a touch of mysticism despite being rooted in that most practical of nationalities. In 1993, Dutch artist Evert Witte took a road trip across the U.S. that led him to Nola. He has been around here, more or less, ever since, painting in his unique manner, as if early Mondrian took a side trip through latter 20th century America before ending up in a studio off Carrollton Avenue just in time for the post-postmodern new age of abstraction. The look is still preternaturally Dutch, but with coolly elusive, jazz fusion overtones. 
Casta Diva, top left, is emblematic -- a loose fandango of pale aubergine and zinfandel loop-de-loops cavorting in an ethereal psychic safe space that suggests how Mondrian might have painted had he lived long enough to hear David Bowie's song lyrics about “Quaaludes and red wine.” Despite looking so wavy-gravy, everything is situated in its proper place with deft Dutch perspicacity. Callas in Blue is almost like a painterly interpretation of George Gershwin's jazz-inspired composition, Rhapsody in Blue, but its indigo-infused polka dots and rectangular slashes on a shimmering sea of Curacao suggest a bluesy precursor to Mondrian's own jazzy, Broadway Boogie-Woogie. But Don't Ask Willie, above left, is more like a rhapsody in beige and smudged umber, cappuccino and milk froth, all arranged in jazzy, angular slashes that resonate like Charles Mingus playing a slow dirge on his string bass. Miles, top, extends the beat in a composition that mingles the staggered angularity of lower Manhattan on a gray autumn day, with hints of Japanese Zen drawing's lyrical transcendence, in a visual allegory of Witte's world journey from his old Holland home. Inventory of the Possible: Abstract Paintings by Evert Witte, Through Nov. 25, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Douglas Bourgeois at Arthur Roger

As his global fame has grown, local art icon Douglas Bourgeois' paintings have entranced art lovers everywhere while leaving some baffled. How can such diverse subjects look so ecstatically at home in the same canvas? He once told an interviewer from the London-based website, Griot that to him, "...a heart-shattering soul song is as transcendent as a Giotto fresco or an Emily Dickinson or William Blake poem." This reflects his roots in the tiny rural Louisiana town of St. Amant in a region where Fats Domino is as revered as Pope Francis, a melting pot culture that has embraced diverse ingredients, combining them into joyous new hybrids like jazz and Creole cuisine.
Delirious contrasts abound in dreamily haunting paintings like Our Lady of the Monster Beats where a Creole girl with uplifted arms and a tattooed rural white dude with a karaoke mike stand by a pyramid of boom boxes at an abandoned gas station. Both have shimmering halos like renaissance saints in an otherwise squalid scene of bucolic decrepitude transformed by an eerie, ecstatic aura. In Solomon and the Angels, soul singer Solomon Burke appears in a round icon painting amid seraphic soul sisters and songbirds. In The Ghost of Her Twin, a young redhead with coiled locks and ivory skin faces her double with ebony locks and cafe-au-lait skin, a lingering afterimage of our famously mutable racial history. Psychic complexity defines Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown, above left, as a young diva with a flaming Sacred Heart appears amid moths, vintage light bulbs, neon and gems radiating a mysterious mystical glow. While some equate Bourgeois with multiculturalism, what his vision really reflects is “creolization,” the way we, despite discord and strife, have ultimately found joy in the food, music and visual art of every ethnicity that makes up our regional cultural gumbo. This Spirit in the Dark show embodies his sense of “an electric connection to infinity and beauty,” his mystic poet's gift for seeing the sublime within the ordinary. ~Bookhardt / Spirit in the Dark: New works by Douglas Bourgeois, Through Dec 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection at the Ogden Museum

It is often said that "history is written by the victors." Fair enough, but art history has often featured  unlikely, formerly obscure figures whose offbeat talents suddenly propelled them to art star status. Yet, most were white and male even as minorities were typically assigned secondary roles in art movements that never really reflected their artistic ideals in the first place. This landmark exhibition of work from the Joyner/ Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art provides a new context for exploring those artists' sensibilities, and in the process reveals a parallel aesthetic universe where abstraction is a means for personal and philosophical liberation rather than simply a style preference. Co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, this Ogden Museum exhibition kicks off a touring itinerary that will take it to Chicago, Baltimore, Berkeley and Miami among other major American art venues.

Compared to, say, the eclectic rural African-American genius of an artist like Thornton Dial, the works seen here are more like the edgy ruminations of abstract jazz musicians who resonate the funky gravitas of inner city life. So it is no surprise that pioneer mid-century abstract black artists like Norman Lewis seemed to exist just beyond the radar of ab-ext era art critics even as the urban black ethos of the time was eloquently articulated elsewhere. For instance, the fusion of Middle Passage echoes and 20th century industrial flourishes seen in in Melvin Edwards' compact, densely eloquent steel sculptures like Words of Fannon, above, elude most art history memes even as they evoke the lyrical heft of Rahsaan Roland Kirk's gritty jazz riffs. Shinique Smith's chill, neo-baroque concoctions like No Key, No Question, top, seem to parlay hints of Alice Coltrane's spiritual exuberance into playful new pop-cultural Afro-Futurist cosmologies. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's wryly urbane funk-romantic figurative paintings like Places to Love For, above left,  similarly speak directly to the rhythms of black urban life, even as Sam Gilliam parlays those rhythms into elegant concoctions (see Melody, detail, top left) that fuse color into compositions where light becomes matter, and time is subjective, relative the disposition of the viewer. ~Bookhardt / Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of African American Abstract Art, Through Jan. 21, 2018, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. Upcoming Nov 18: Artist & Curator Panel: November 18, 3:30–5pm, with Christopher Bedford, Leonardo Drew, Melvin Edwards, Charles Gaines, Katy Siegel and Shinique Smith. More>>