Sunday, March 24, 2019

And Another Thing: New Collage and Assemblage by 13 Artists Curated by Carole Leake

In a prose poem inspired by the late found object sculptor Joseph Cornell, poet Charles Simic wrote: "Somewhere in the city of New York there are four or five still-unknown objects that belong together. Once together they'll make a work of art." Cornell was a self-taught pioneer American surrealist who was also an erudite student of art history, so he was a natural bridge between outsider artists and the “official” art world of galleries, academies and museums. His ghost hangs over this “And Another Thing” collage and assemblage expo, but the net effect reflects Nola more than Cornell's New York or the surrealists' Paris, perhaps because so much of this recalls the altar-like arrays of objects that so often adorn mantels and end tables in local bohemian households.

Mary Gottschalk Moses' “Aftermath” assemblage of antique faucet handles, gas heater parts and lacy metal filigree suggests ancient Egyptian Masonic symbolism resuscitated from demolished house debris by a secret society of hermetic handymen. The holy cards, saint medallions, crystals and beads of Bonnie Bendzans' gothic reliquary, “Genuflect,” suggests the sacred artifacts of the Society of Ste. Anne marching krewe – but her “Crows Mourn their Dead” reliquary, with its stuffed raven perched on an antique scale, evokes a ghostly collaboration between Cornell and Edgar Allen Poe.

John Barnes returns us to the present via the plantation past in his “NFL Locker Room” -- a slave shack cum football locker room that is his sculptural commentary on the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Mitch Gaudet's “500 Points” assemblage, top, of cast glass toy soldiers, target ducks and a heart-shaped sheet metal bullseye is the erstwhile sculptor and former National Guard officer's stark commentary on the nostalgia of violence. Collage paintings by David Eddington and the late James Steg explore the surreal depths of flat surfaces, while an “Exquisite Corpse” collaborative work in the gallery's dungeon grotto rounds out a show that often suggests installation art on the part of curator Carole Leake: a 13 artist expo that comes across like a sprawling assemblage in its own right. ~Bookhardt / And Another Thing: Recent Colleges and Assemblages, Through April 6, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Vernacular Voices at the Ogden Museum

This spectacular, if often eccentric, exhibition highlights the scope and depth the Ogden Museum's collection of  “outsider” and “visionary” artworks by self-taught Southern artists. What all this entails is somewhat different from the older and tamer version of what was traditionally meant by “folk art,” a term often used to describe displays of hand carved duck decoys, boats or baskets cleverly cobbled from from popsicle sticks. By contrast, works by untutored “outsider” or “visionary” artists tend to be less predictable, often reflecting the unusual inner life of creative individuals who are products of their time and place, yet were nonetheless gifted with unique visions that appeared to them in dreams, or were received from angels or the spirits of historical figures or maybe even the ghost of Elvis. Others are direct messages from God, who chose little known visionaries to spread divine revelations to the rest of us. The variations are endless but what they all share in common is a perspective unfiltered by graduate schools or art history, but which at its best reflects a unique way of seeing that, like all successful art, opens windows revealing insightful new views of the world around us.

Even the most straightforward of these artists can provide unexpected insights. Sometimes called a “memory painter,” Clementine Hunter (1886 – 1988) was a descendant of slaves who spent much of her life at Melrose, a plantation built by free people of color. There she painted field workers, cotton gins and baptisms with stylized figures in near-hieroglyphic compositions that are deceptively simple in much the way Mozart's classical melodies were often deceptively simple. Other works, for instance “Chaleur: The Sun Gives Life to Everything” reflect a far more sophisticated flair for composition and color. If Hunter is the legendary matriarch of the Louisiana folk art tradition, many who followed in her footsteps were more complicated characters. The late Herbert Singleton (1945 – 2007) carved wooden figures inflected with his passion for social justice, and against “confusion,” which he saw as a dangerous tool of oppressors, here reflected in the plight of three archetypal figures "Rasberry Man, Boyfriend and Strawberry Woman," below. Similarly, his carved bas relief, “Leander Perez,”  depicts the segregationist former political boss of Plaquemines Parish haranguing restive, bedraggled storm victims in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969.

If Louisiana is arguably the weirdest of American states, the intriguing thing about Southern outsider art is its pervasive strangeness regardless of locale. Henry Speller (1903 - 1997), a Mississippi Delta blues musician who often performed with Howlin' Wolf, created deeply psychological works that recalled expressionistic European “art brut,” for instance, in an untitled, undulating drawing of three weirded out women with bare breasts and high heels that resonates a sensibility somewhere between Helmut Newton and the art of the insane. No less odd are the hypnotically intriguing wood sculptures by Tennessee's Bessie Harvey (1929 – 1994), who believed she was on a mission from God. If her otherworldly figures in “First King and Queen” (detail, left) cobbled from painted wood, beads and cowrie shells, are peculiar, it is God's will because, as she once put it, “his people are peculiar people.” 

Although the mixed media assemblages and painted wall reliefs for which Alabama's greatest visual artist, the late Thornton Dial (1928 – 2016) is justly famous, are as eccentric as anything in the outsider art genre, they are distinguished by a compelling presence that transcends categories. His primal yet deftly sophisticated way of simultaneously navigating many dimensions is seen in “Struggling Tiger in Hard Times,” a convoluted jungle labyrinth cobbled from carpet, tin, rope and painted canvas on wood. His more boisterously buoyant “Man Got It Made Sitting in the Shade” depicts an expressionistic blue man serenely gazing at the viewer in the shadow of a colorful shrub like a spaghetti tangle of painted rope and canvas. It is never easy to divine exactly what Thornton Dial was thinking, but it is clear that he is a master of grand gestures that he coaxes from maniacal mazes of orphaned objects mingled with fragments of lost dreams.

A list of exceptionally beguiling, compelling, or just plain strange objets d'art in this exhibition of some 150 works by over 40 artists would be too long to mention here, but standouts include works by at least a few living artists including Mississippi's Elayne Goodman (b. 1940) whose “Altar to Elvis” mingles obsessive detail with near-cinematic production values. In a quieter vein, Louisiana's Welmon Sharlhorne (b. 1952) is a New Orleans resident who developed his precise yet otherworldly style of pen and ink drawing while serving time in prison. There he found “art and God” and, like so many of the artists in this exhibition, has been devoted to both ever since. ~Bookhardt / Vernacular Voices: Self Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Through July 14, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

(Per)Sister: Louisiana's Incarcerated Women at Tulane University's Newcomb Art Museum

Much gets overlooked in a national political atmosphere that resembles a tacky Reality TV show, but some things have simmered below the surface for years. For instance, America's incarceration rate for women grew over 800% in recent decades, and is worse in Louisiana thanks to our draconian “repeat offender” law. Most of our incarcerated women were jailed for non-violent crimes, and many are single mothers. Some 12% of Louisiana children now have a jailed parent. How did we get here? That dark history is explored in this "(Per)Sister" expo in the stories of over female 30 veterans of our prison system in collaboration with area artists. If that sounds grim, many of the works on view are quite engaging, with an aura of transcendence enlivened by a haunting soundtrack collaboration of Lynn Drury, Sarah Quintana, Queen Koldmadina, Spirit McIntyre, Margie Perez, and Keith Porteous.*

Butch Frosch's painting “Tremica's Courage,” top right, is a representation of Tremica Henry's separation from her three year old daughter, an image that, for emphasis, utilizes a pop art style that Frosch associates with white America. Lee Deigaard's mixed media “Persister Moon,” above, depicts a blood moon embellished with white flowers and metal mesh symbolizing prison births. The vibrant color patterns of Carl Joe Williams' installation invokes African cultural memory as a backdrop to Dolfinette Martin's story of her early incarceration and her later work on behalf of at risk young women. Epaul Julien's painting, “13th,” top, portrays Dolita Wilhike as an Angela Davis look-alike superimposed on an American flag where the stripes are images of chains, chain gangs and prisoners that implicitly question the actual legacy of the Constitution's 13th Amendment. Rontherin Ratliff's imposing “Queen” sculpture, above left, is a stylized chess piece that symbolizes the complicated process of Bobbie Jean Johnson's exoneration after decades of imprisonment, while Ma-Po Kinnard's ceramic “Aya” sculpture, based on an iconic West African deity of endurance, surveys these stories from the spirit realm, symbolically transcending oceans, continents and centuries. ~Bookhardt / "(Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women of Louisiana,” Through July 6, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328. *Featured in a free concert on Friday, March 22 at 6 pm, at the Newcomb Art Museum.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Rediscovered Birney Imes Photos and New Sacabo & Wonk Tomes at A Gallery for Fine Photography

We think we know people but they sometimes surprise us. Although we never met, I felt I knew Birney Imes from his striking color photographs of Mississippi juke joints, structures so ramshackle yet richly colorful they exude a pulsating life of their own. But his recently rediscovered black and white photos are surprising for their subtle take on rural Mississippi life. The other surprise was that Imes, whom I'd imagined as a camera-toting Delta blues hound was, until his recent retirement, the publisher of the Columbus Commercial Dispatch daily newspaper. His works on view amount to a slice of everyday life in rural blues culture; their lack of color is more than balanced by their depth of empathy. In “Young Girl, 1989, Isola, Mississippi,” above, random kids and adults appear hanging out in a yard, but look again and the girl with the pale eyes seems wise beyond her years, with a knowing gaze as impassive as an ancient oracle.

Other daily rituals imbued with a distinctive presence include guys rounding up a lost bird dog, youths selling watermelons by the side of a road, a snazzy couple kissing passionately at a café wedding reception -- a stark contrast to a formally attired youth, “Rufus at his Mother's Funeral,” looking stricken as he holds a solitary flower. In “Terrence Harris,” a young lad stands in front of a tiny shack almost obscured by a big old Detroit car stranded like a beached whale. He juggles a rock that hangs in space just above his hand. Locked in his gaze, it is unclear where it will land.      

These and other thoughtful works make A Gallery for Fine Photography a contemplative Lenten oasis. Up front, a reprise of Josephine Sacabo's recent “Tagged” photogravures expo -- French Quarter graffiti montaged with her images of iconic divas like sensual, secular saints -- assumes an altar-like presence amid her and partner Dalt Wonk's recently published Luna Press art books, lush works of provocative calm that are a perfect antidote to the manic storm of Mardi Gras. ~Bookhardt / Found These Pictures: Photographs by Birney Imes, Through April 20, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Bordett and Coll at The Front; Southerly Gold's Edwards, Martin and Ricci at Good Children

People are freaking out. That is nothing new, but the current freakout over identity and reality seems unprecedented. Why are identity, reality and fakery such hot issues? Patrick Coll investigates via his  “Parasocial” expo of graphical and video works based on the aptly named “FakeApp” program – a favorite of revenge porn freaks – that lets users put any face on anyone in a video. Here Coll uses it to create a fake ad campaign, inviting you to “Become a Better You” by becoming “Someone Else,” as  seen in images of happy, traditional couples who both have the same face. Facial features even turn up on appendages like thumbs, or appear in fantastical variations like “Allison,” above, a digital print on fabric. His “BaudrillardBot” is a video based on French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who argued that the proliferation of mass media images, or “simulacra,” had turned urban life into baffling hall of mirrors. Baudrillard was often overrated, but his emphasis on the disorienting effect of super-saturated media seems spot on. After all, with so much fakery all around us, clinging desperately to traditional notions of identity may have become the last refuge of the confused.

David Bordett's sculptures hark to regional identity and American pop culture. Here iconic objects – from cowboy boots to custom cars and fuzzy dice – appear as as random pop artifacts in an age of mass digital dissociation. At nearby Good Children gallery, Southerly Gold -- Ariya Martin, Aubry Edwards and Elena Ricci -- explore symbolic Louisiana psychogeographic phenomena, from photographs of duckweed to displays of bleached crab claws, as part of their investigation of how this place shaped the people who live here, and vice versa. Over the past five years, they documented the ironies of life in a state where wild nature and industry coexist so uneasily that we are forced to confront “the complex identity of place that arises in the intermingling of potential versus reality.” ~Bookhardt / Born to Win: Sculpture by David Bordett, Parasocial: Mixed Media by Patrick Coll Through Mar. 3, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;  God’s Country: Mixed Media by Southerly Gold, Through Mar. 3, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element at the New Orleans Museum of Art

When it came to amenities, the ancients had it rough, but their world view was very easy: there were only four elements, air, earth, fire or water. If civilization ended tomorrow, they  would still be around, so of course they fascinate artists. Some works in this "Earth and Element" show are more elemental than others, but our relationship with those old elemental forces remains a mystery that has a lot to do with the nature of consciousness itself. Pat Steir's “Persian Waterfall,” features, elongated drips and splatters of pale paint cascading down a dark background in a work that epitomizes her flair for blurring the boundaries between abstraction and representation while psychically resonating an aura of cooling mists that can almost be felt as much as seen.
Dan Alley also employs splatters, but his 13 foot long aluminum splash titled “Delta” – a silvery cascade formed by molten metal -- memorializes the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 when hundreds of thousands of people were stranded and left homeless. Conversely, Ronald Lockett's “Drought” is a tableau of rusted sheet metal with a wounded steer cobbled from metal strips as a central figure. Here the ember red of the rust recalls the fiery furnaces of the sheet metal's origins while hinting at global warming. Jennifer Odem takes a direct approach to the earth's stubborn denseness in three sculptures that recall the huge termite mounds found in hot remote places like equatorial Brazil where towering 4,000 year old mounds remain active today. Odem mitigates earthy denseness with human touches like zippers to remind us of our elemental connection with what we now regard as mere “raw materials.”

Himalayan peoples regard space as a fifth element, and Olafur Eliasson's “Hinged View” sculpture of  six glass orbs on black metal stands illustrates the circular relationship between spatiality and consciousness. Paradoxically, Eliasson's scientifically intricate works can seem rather magical precisely because they so clearly illustrate how subjective outer appearances really are, and how changes in perspective can make your entire world view suddenly shift on its axis. ~Bookhardt / “Ear to the Ground: Earth and Element in Contemporary Art at NOMA,” Through August, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Nicole Charbonnet: Key to All Mythologies

We may think we know about myths, but what are they really? More than just old Greek and Roman legends that our Mardi Gras parades were often named after, myths are stories that unite past and present, universal ideas and intimate experiences, or so Nola artist Nicole Charbonnet suggests in her new mixed media paintings. If the ideal forms of traditional Olympian deities belied their famously messy personal lives, Charbonnet cuts to the quick by mixing their iconic allure with a graphical goulash of modern grit and lurid innuendo. “Danaë and the Shower of Gold,” top, based on Adolf Wertmüller's 1787 painting of the Greek princess ravished by the great god Zeus disguised as a golden mist, somehow unites the legends of the Roman poet Ovid with messy modern graffiti and seductive mass media imagery that blurs the boundaries between advertising and soft porn. In so doing, she infuses the ephemeral with the eternal, and maybe a hint of the infernal.

Similarly, in “After Michelangelo,” upper left, the ghostly image of one of the renaissance artist's typically beefy, NFL linebacker-esque torsos seems to be emerging from the painting's dense texture, a surface that recalls a crumbling wall replete with splattered paint and pockmarks that amount to a record of time's indignities over the ages. In “Amor Vincit Omnia – After Caravaggio,” contemporary chaos sets the tone in a scene where splatters of pink paint overwhelm green figurative swatches in ways that recall the iconic graffiti-riddled anarchy of a St. Claude Avenue streetscape. “After Modigliani” is more demure, an imprint of a sly Sibyl etched into a sun-bleached Italian rampart, but “After Giorgione,” above, is more frontal, a modern day Venus as an assertive soft porn princess. If the collective chaos of these works can seem disorienting at first, the way they really do appear to integrate the wild and colorfully humanistic aspects of the past with the digitally enhanced chaos of the present, fulfills visual art's role as a stimulant to the integrative processes of the imagination, processes without which there would be no resilience, and consequently no healing. ~Bookhardt / Key to All Mythologies: Mixed Media Paintings by Nicole Charbonnet, Through Feb. 23, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.   

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists

In the 1960s, Tina Girouard was part of an influential group of avant garde New York artists from Louisiana that included Lynda Benglis, Dickie Landry, Keith Sonnier and Robert Rauschenberg. She  eventually returned to her Acadiana home turf where she immersed herself in not only her native Cajun culture but also in the Afro-Caribbean cultures that markedly influenced so much of our rich Creole heritage. During visits to her studio in Haiti, where she worked with legendary vodou flag makers such as Edgar Jean-Louis and George Valris, Girouard fashioned these large beaded and sequined "Vodou drapos" that, while mostly remaining true to traditional Haitian symbolism, occasionally reveal Louisiana influences as well. That influence is most obvious in one of her most aesthetically compelling works, “La Sirenne,” a metaphysical mermaid and goddess of the sea's currents and creatures, as well as of magic and the psyche. Here she is a Creole sea siren who, in a nod to Louisiana's Creole culture, wields a saxophone, an instrument with serpentine lines that complement the Medusa-like eels that that make up her tightly coiled hairdo.

If the saxophone seems unexpected, it really reflects vodou's syncretic ability to incorporate African, Native American, Roman Catholic and other global influences across time and space. That sensibility is exemplified in “Legba,” the guardian of time and the crossroads –a reminder that the old African notion of the crossroads infuses American music legends, most notably blues great Robert Johnson's famous pact with the devil at the crossroads. One of the most imposing images here is the serpent “Damballah” whose knowledge and creativity gave birth to the universe and all things in it.

“Erzulie” is a flirtatious loa who embodies the spirit of Venus and the Virgin Mary, whereas Ogou is the Afro-Haitian version of Mars, the spirit of iron and warfare who enabled Haitians armed with mere machetes to defeat Napoleon's powerful army and create the first Caribbean island nation. Here Girouard celebrates Haiti's influence on Louisiana's deep international roots. ~Bookhardt / Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists, Through June 16th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

NO/JXN: Group Expo of Jackson MS Artists

When and where is randomness not really random? One answer might be modern Jackson, Mississippi. This quirky expo suggests that times have changed in a place once associated with fading Southern belles and aging politicians spouting platitudes steeped in molasses and cigar smoke. Those days are long gone – Jackson's current mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, won by a landslide in 2017 on a platform of making Jackson “the most radical city on the planet.” Today, Jackson's new homegrown radical chic amounts to a kind of cultural grab bag of most anything that ain't mint juleps or whistlin' Dixie, as we see in this NO/JXN exhibition curated by Doyle Gertjejensen.

At first, all that these works have in common is that they all have nothing in common, but look again and a distinctly Jacksonian sensibility emerges -- a stream of consciousness visual sensibility articulated into international, or maybe intergalactic, riffs of aesthetic nihilism, a tendency epitomized in Allan Inman's paintings. “Hell Hounds,” top, is emblematic. A series of glossy jade green Asian hell realm figures set against infernal waves of fire and elongated red tubes of something like confectionery dragon's blood, “Hell Hounds” suggests an Asian pop vision of fire and brimstone catering to a doomsday cult of severely depressed Japanese art collectors. Its overall oddness is perfectly complemented by a series of Ellen Rogers's photos of science fiction and porn-inflected figure studies (eg. "Friendly Invader," right) paired with suggestive rock formations.

The king of randomness here is probably Ke Francis whose sculptural assemblages look like something an ironic gust of wind blew in, but whose etchings and woodcut prints display a manic precision that radiates a distinctly unhinged charisma. Compared to these artists, Doyle Gertjejensen, in paintings that evoke the parallels between brush strokes and tornadoes, comes across like the straight man in an old Monty Python movie while Charles Carraway's minimal views of blank walls punctuated by windows flooded by the luminosity of mystically bland landscapes, for instance, "Indented Wall," above, suggests something a painterly Brian Eno might have done: “Music for Airports” transformed into visual fragments of sublime ordinariness.  ~Bookhardt / NO/JXN: Group Exhibition of Jackson Mississippi Artists, Through Feb. 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Diego and Frida at the Mexican Cultural Institute

During their 25 years together, painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera epitomized an operatic bohemian lifestyle that made most other artists' lives seem tame. As Rivera became the world's most famous, and perhaps most controversial, muralist, Frida Kahlo was largely overshadowed despite her exhibitions in New York and Paris. But times change, and while Rivera remains a legend, Kahlo has, since her rediscovery by the public in the 1980s, become a pop icon. Today, fueled partly by the 2002 biopic “Frida” starring Salma Hayek, her cult status has spawned Frida-themed cafes and restaurants, lip gloss, t-shirts, even emojis and jewelry – British prime minister Theresa May was recently seen wearing a Frida bracelet. Her complex identity as a bisexual German-Mexican mestiza and advocate for indigenous peoples fueled her diverse appeal, but it was her marriage to Rivera and their countless breakups, betrayals and reconciliations that cause these photographs to suggest scenes from a strange and colorful movie where even restrained moments crackle with unspoken drama.  

Many of these over three dozen images are unattributed although some are by known photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Nickolas Murray and others. They offer a variety of views of one of the art world's most famous couples including one of them kissing by Nickolas Murray (pictured) or Frida painting as Diego looks on, by Bernard Silverstein, or else casually posing with a pet monkey or marching in a political protest.

Their complex relationship is well known, but their ties to Nola are not. In 1928, the Times-Picayune declared Rivera North America's "greatest painter” as local artists including Caroline Durieux, Conrad Albrizio and William Spratling interacted with him and his peers in Mexico, ushering an era of close relations documented in Katie Pfohl's 2015 book, “Mexico in New Orleans: A Tale of Two Americas.” Later, in the late 1970s, a circle of local artists including Jacqueline Bishop, Douglas Bourgeois and Ecuadoran expat George Febres pioneered the Visionary Imagist movement that presaged the Frida Kahlo magic realist revival. “A Halfway Smile” is the Mexican Cultural Institute's striking contribution to this season's PhotoNola celebration. ~ Bookhardt / A Halfway Smile: Photographs of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Through Feb 15, Mexican Cultural Institute, 119 Diamond St., 581-5868. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beyond Land and Sea: Binh Danh, David Knox and Jennifer Shaw at the Arsenal in the Cabildo

What do rivers, swamps and bayous have in common with people? They all meander and may migrate beyond their usual boundaries. Water and human destiny have long been linked, and the photographers featured here explore the intersection of nature and culture in this newly refurbished exhibition space in the Arsenal at the Cabildo. Among the more recent immigrants to arrive and thrive in this area are the Vietnamese who fled their war ravaged nation starting in the 1970s. Binh Danh grew up in California, but Vietnam's tropical foliage once inspired him to invent a chlorophyll-based printing process before making these more conventional color portraits of Vietnamese people in the New Orleans area where our tropical environs are conducive to growing the crops that thrived in their native land. Chlorophyll in the form of verdant green foliage still permeates these lucid views of proud Vietnamese urban farmers posed before their gardens and greenhouses as we see in “Y Bui and Kim Le of Marrero, LA,” above, an image where the local and the global coalesce in perfect harmony. In other views, most notably  in New Orleans East, icons of the Virgin Mary often appear as another commonplace subtheme.

One of the migrations often overlooked in the history books is the influx of Southerners who fled to Nola from the devastated parts of the South after the Civil War. Their energy helped build the city even as their rigid social views impacted our old laissez-faire Creole approach to racial issues. David Knox's dreamy photo-collages of Civil War scenes, for instance "Cane Field," above, evoke the apocalyptic poetics of the Civil War South in sublimely hellish imagery where Margaret Mitchell's “Gone with the Wind” meets Dante's “Inferno.”

Jennifer Shaw's ethereal photogravures on Japanese Kozo paper take us back to a flooded diluvian future in views of humanoid sea creatures where people sprout lobster-like appendages and ladies ride giant sea horses in murky tableaux where seaweed replaces familiar garden greenery – scenes that are par for the course in an initially subtle looking show that offers vivid new views of otherwise familiar history. ~Bookhardt / Between Land and Sea: Recent Work by Binh Danh, Jennifer Shaw and David Knox, Curated by Constance Lewis; Through March 31, The Arsenal at the Cabildo, 701 Chartres St., 568-6968.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eric Fischl at Octavia Art Gallery

He is something of a modern oddity, an artist who wandered into an art world dominated by academic theories that ignored the personal side of the human condition, yet he eventually found success as a painter of unsettling human quirks. In retrospect, Eric Fischl seems to have had perfect pitch when it came to capturing the apprehensive psyche of latter day America as seen in his favorite subjects, Long Island, New York, suburbanites lounging around comfortable homes crackling with uncomfortable secrets, or furtively cavorting on the beach in search of elusive pleasures. Early on, his oddly virtuoso paintings evoked the creamy luminosity of a queasy anti-hero Vermeer of Sag Harbor, but the mostly collage-like works seen here and in other recent shows reflect a tersely fluid, near finger-painterly quality of gesture appropriate to figures who, like characters in a John Updike novel, inhabit a familiar world that seems to be shifting out from under their feet. This is Fischl's home turf, literally and psychically, and his unsettling narratives resonate no end of quiet innuendo. 

“Handstand,” depicts three people on a beach who are, at least momentarily, alone together as an older man on a chaise lounge reads a magazine as a woman does a handstand and a young guy ambles distractedly through their midst. Here the sketchy ephemerality of the dye sublimation medium on mylar recalls that most of Fischl's images start out as photographs whose subjects he rearranges to suit the labyrinthine twists of his vision, so if similar figures turn up elsewhere it is not a total surprise. As individuals, the figures in “Family,” or “Poolside Loungers,” may be unique, but the paradoxes and disconcerting ambiguities of their lives are widely shared. In a unique work in poured resin, “Untitled,” top, five sunbathers appear in randomly awkward poses. Familiar yet remote, perhaps even to themselves, they embody the disjointed vulnerability of the world today while reflecting Fischl's belief, repeated in several recent interviews, that “Art should be embraced as a journey. Result-oriented, not product-based. Understood as a process and a dialogue with history, culture, and time.” ~Bookhardt / Eric Fischl: Recent Mixed Media Works, Through Jan. 26, 2019, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.