Sunday, June 30, 2019

Josephine Sacabo & NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writers

The well known photographer, Josephine Sacabo, has for some time maintained a relationship with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts writing program. Although words and images are usually considered two totally different forms of expression, the truth is more nuanced. Nothing demonstrates that more than NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writing class taught by Andy Young. If "Ekphrastic Writing" sounds exotic, it is actually an antique Greek rhetorical exercise based on vivid verbal descriptions of a visual artwork. Since Sacabo's studio is conveniently near NOCCA, a local Ekphrastic tradition has evolved that this year resulted in an exhibition at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. Here six NOCCA students, Jillian Chatelain, Katherine Edwards, Maggie Malone, Kristian Palmer, Campbell Smith, and Finn Yekple, displayed their texts along side Sacabo's photographs that inspired them.
If this sounds like another feel good story about an accomplished artist mentoring local high school kids, think again. The writings in this “Shadows In Ink” collaboration reveal a highly developed poetic lucidity. For instance, Finn Yekple's “Obscene Bird of Night” poems are uniquely surreal impressions of Sacabo's Rorschach-like abstractions, themselves partly inspired by Chilean writer José Donoso's novel of the same name. Maggie Malone's fictive journal entries based on Sacabo's ghostly portraits of women, such as “A Geometry of Discord,” top, are verbal vignettes. One involves a mysterious dream about a woman's search for a loved one felt as sensations within her bodily organs. In another, a man is attempting to whistle as he waits for a train. His breath emerges as a cloud of ice and the train does not stop. All six of these these young writers hark to literary history and Sacabo's images, yet all possess a freshness and a singularity of vision that is rare at any age. The result is a collaboration that was illuminating for all concerned. As Sacabo put it, “I am deeply grateful to them for showing me things in my own work I never knew were there.” ~Bookhardt / Shadows In Ink: Images and Texts by Josephine Sacabo and Six New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts Writing Students, Through July 21, New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

St.Lewis and Scheaffer at Martine Chaisson

After a long absence from the New Orleans gallery scene, Louis St. Lewis, the acclaimed pop art provocateur of Raleigh, North Carolina, and former "court painter” to the late king Kigeli V of Rwanda, has once again returned to the city he cites as an inspiration. King Kigeli died in exile in Washington D.C., but his portraitist, St. Lewis, lives on, cranking out flamboyant mixed media works that meld his glitter rock flash and dazzle with his theatrical regard for the past. Here his flair for colorful incandescence is complemented by the neon virtuosity of his collaborator, Raleigh-based glass sculptor Nate Sheaffer. Influences ranging from glam rock to mythology and world history can be seen in “Ashes to Ashes,” where David Bowie appears in a neon suit clutching a glowing neon heart. Next to him stands the figure of Death in the form of a skull wearing a Napoleonic bicorn hat and a regal frock coat topped off with angel wings. Bowie's brooding, perplexed visage still bears traces of face paint from his Ziggy Stardust days as he and Death confront the viewer as the ultimate odd couple.

St. Lewis's sometimes campy and always carnivalesque vision has found a following in Louisiana, where his work appears in numerous private and museum collections. His flair for local popular culture turns up in a number of works including his portrait of Big Freedia as Medusa, as well as in “Angel of Algiers,” left, where a seductive West Bank siren sports a spiky neon halo set off by a glowing neon vortex. In “Absinthe,” the “green fairy” of cocktails appears as a shimmering neon labyrinth. Another work where Nate Sheaffer's glass mastery shines brightly is “Phrenology,” top. Here the old pseudo-science of the human skull is depicted as a neon map of brain regions, most labeled “Me.” It is a comment on our times as well as a glowing example of St. Lewis and Shaeffer's flair for turning so many defining facets of cultural history and modern life into incandescent visual spectacles. ~Bookhardt / All That Glitters: New Work by Louis St. Lewis & Nate Sheaffer, Through June 29th, Martine Chaisson Gallery, 727 Camp, 302-7942.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Maeyama at Staple Goods; Sugiura at Ferrara

Once, while strolling through the French Quarter, an inebriated panhandler requested a handout with an unusual greeting: “Welcome to New Orleans, land of the living dark...” That stuck with me, and came to mind while viewing Kaori Maeyama's latest paintings at Staple Goods. A native of Japan based in Nola since 1994, Maeyama has long explored the inner magic of familiar nocturnal scenes like the stretch of elevated roadway seen in “Blue Highway II Blue Sky Blue.” Here what initially looks ordinary soon becomes otherworldly as the vast cobalt sky sets the dark urban grit into stark relief below streetlights glowing softly as fireflies.

In “Double Shotgun Double,” above, two old houses appear bathed in ambient light. Although outwardly ordinary, they come alive as we note the way the humid, below-sea-level atmosphere softens the patches of light as they dance across the ancient facades. Ditto the seemingly featureless side of an old shotgun house softly reflecting  multiple ambient light sources in “Primaries,” where hints of primary reds and blues ripple across the pale salmon clapboard siding. In this exhibition, Maeyama reveals the subtle visual secrets of “the city of the living dark.”
At Ferrara, Japanese painter Akihiko Sugiura explores a magical world of the fluid energy fields that he regards as the inner essence of what most of us see as the “real world.” In “Beard,” we see a guy who in peripheral vision might appear as an assertive redhead but up close becomes a demonic visage of red, green and flamboyant yellow slashes of color. “Two” depicts two girls sitting on a sofa. One's pose suggests she might be resting her feet on a footstool, but her lower legs are missing. Her ghostly pale partner gazes at her seemingly in mid-conversation, and in these works Sugiura depicts the fluid and ever-shifting spectrum of energies, physical and emotional, that he perceives just below the surface of ordinary, everyday life. ~Bookhardt / Subaquatic Homesick Blues: Paintings by Kaori Maeyama, Through July 7, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331; Kyorai (去来): Coming And Going: Paintings by Akihiko Sugiura, Through July 15, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Virtual Idylls: Botanical Videos by Courtney Egan
“A rose is a rose is a rose.” So said the 20th century American poet, Gertrude Stein. But is it really? The popular contemporary philosopher, Eckhart Tolle, says we should forget the name and just contemplate the rose as it slowly reveals its magic. Stein presaged conceptual art, and Tolle recalls modern physics and ancient mysticism. Conceptual and mystical notions appear in this  “Virtual Idylls” expo of video projection art by Courtney Egan.

The magnolia flower in “Repository,” right, might initially recall Gertrude Stein's rose until we see it slowly, gracefully unfolding to reveal its magical presence. Like a mandala made of moonlight, it is clearly a living thing with a shimmering life of its own. That aura of magic running through Egan's oeuvre can be unforgettable if seen in the right circumstances, as some might recall from the claw-foot bathtub filled night-blooming cereus flowers slowly blossoming in the dusky bathroom of an old house as part of a Prospect.2 satellite exhibition in 2011. The tub was real, but flowers, a time-lapse video projection, were light in motion. A somewhat reminiscent experience appears here in the slow-dancing cereus flowers of her mandala-like “Sleepwalkers” wall projection video, top.

A more conceptual approach appears in “Metalfora,” a wall video that dominates the gallery as you enter the exhibit. The flora suggests glowing wallpaper, but when triggered by motion sensors, they blossom rather quickly, reflecting the random, haphazard way people move around in a world where the need for speed makes true contemplation almost impossible. But another new work, “Self Fulfilling Prophesy,” above, takes us to the magical space-time of angel's trumpet flowers as they slowly unfurl. Here the projection includes a sculptural element in the form of replica human arms that seem to clutch serpentine strands of the glowing blossoms, echoing a scene in French surrealist Jean Cocteau's landmark film, “Beauty and the Beast.” These works reveal how Egan, a New Orleans native whose vision was profoundly influenced by her childhood experiences growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, transcends genres, boundaries and expectations. ~Bookhardt / Virtual Idylls: Botanical Video Projections by Courtney Egan, Through August, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Mary McCartney: From the Print Drawer

You can learn a lot about people by running errands with them. Back in 1994, I interviewed Linda McCartney, Paul's late wife, during her "Sun Prints" show at A Gallery for Fine Photography. We soon realized that we were once almost neighbors in New York's East Village, and even knew some of the same people, back when I was playing hooky from UNO and she was a young photographer named Linda Eastman. We talked for an hour and a half as her daughter, Mary, refreshed our bottled water. Finally, Paul showed up and our conversation continued for a bit on the streets of the French Quarter, where we ducked into Walgreens when someone needed Tylenol. It seemed shocking that we were all soon standing in line when most celebs would have sent a staff gofer to fetch the pills. We met again at  a party, but it was at Walgreens that I realized the McCartneys, beyond being extraordinarily nice, were the rare celebs who remained "real people" in spite of it all.

Fast forward to the present and Mary McCartney's photographs are now on the wall. What I find   striking is how her vision saliently and aesthetically reflects how so many regular, “real people” see the world around them. Here ordinary places and things are revealed in those rare moments when they come across as extraordinary epiphanies, and extraordinary people appear in ways that express the common humanity we all share. For instance, “Butterfly in Pool” reads like a beautiful mystery. How, and why, did it end up there? “Beach House, Sussex,” a dark cottage on a rocky shore at dusk, seems to glow with the souls of its occupants over the ages. In “Joni Mitchell, London,” the iconic singer looks solemn, haughty yet vulnerable. These works reflect Mary and her mom's shared unselfconscious quality of pure awareness. I never forgot Linda McCartney's empathy, kindness and generosity, and was deeply saddened when she died in 1998. It is very gratifying that so many of her visionary goals and traits live on in her idealistic and uniquely talented daughter, Mary. ~ Bookhardt / Mary McCartney: From the Print Drawer, Through August 1, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.