Sunday, August 25, 2019

New Work by Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija, Demond Melancon and Brandon Surtain at the Arthur Roger Gallery

This is an unusual exhibition. Three of these artists, Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija and Demond Melancon are portraitists, while artist and ex-football player Brandon Surtain paints urban scenes that function as portraits of the city. All have local roots except Kobaslija, a Bosnia native now focused on the people of Florida. What they have in common is a flair for local color that ultimately transcends locale – an approach especially suited to a city that forged its unique culture from the diverse origins of its inhabitants, and then transformed that same unique local culture into its most famous export.  

Unlike most cities, New Orleans culture largely evolved from the ground up and there may be no better example than our Mardi Gras Indians. The beaded canvas portraits by Demond Melancon, Big Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters, celebrate local musicians from Fats Domino to Big Freedia, but look again and you'll also see Melancon's evocative bead portrait of human history over the ages, above, featuring a spectral image of Ethiopian king Haile Selassi looking a bit like a Treme creole while illustrating how African American artists of all stripes were were inspired by that continent's ancient legacies.

 The relationship of Bosnia native Amer Kobaslija and the people of Florida seems more complicated at first, as we see in his large oil on aluminum paintings. Although alligator hunters and other colorful, earthy characters are traditional Florida icons, Kobaslija's subjects often exude an unexpectedly Balkan aura, so a mounted police officer patrolling a river, above, looks almost like he could have been sent there by longtime 20th century Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito. If that sounds odd, it may help to remember the pioneering role played by Bosnia's neighboring Croatians who, along with Cajuns, Sicilians and, later, Vietnamese, made Louisiana's seafood industry what it is today.

Former LSU defensive end Brandon Surtain returns us to this city's sultry nocturnal soul in his oddly evocative nightscapes like his landscape portrait of the "Comiskey No. 2 Playground," glowing with the neon vibrato of an indelible childhood memory, while portrait paintings by former New Orleanian, now Connecticut-based, Leonard Galmon infuse cerebral looking subjects with the aura of glowing mahogany warmth that he associates with his family, a clan scattered far and wide in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina ~Bookhardt / Leonard Galmon, Amer Kobaslija, Demond Melancon and Brandon Surtain: New Work, Through September 21, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Louisiana Contemporary at the Ogden Museum

Since 2012, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art has undertaken what sometimes seemed an impossible task: to present a sampler of work by contemporary Louisiana artists in a way that makes their chaotic cacophony of individual visions accessible to casual viewers. Louisianians are a stubbornly singular lot, but David Breslin, Director of Curatorial Initiatives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, has guest curated 44 artworks by 23 artists out of 364 applicants into a visual polyphony that is strikingly coherent while reflecting the diverse strands of this state's socio-aesthetic values.

While Louisiana shares modern America's tensions between competing economic and sociological forces, the arcane spirits of the land and the Native American, African and European peoples who took root here can still be felt in some of these works. Third place winner Rachel David's hand forged steel sculptures meld art nouveau sinuosity with a hint of swamp-futurist biology that perfectly complements Kristin Meyers nearby wrapped and bound fabric sculptures such as "He Dances," above, ambiguous figures that suggest new life forms conjured by voodoo alchemists -- an effect enhanced by Kristina Larson's clay cloud sculptures eerily emitting colored light on the wall.

Jessica Strahan's top prize winning painting, “Survived,” left, of a black girl who may have seen too much reads like an icon of our times, while Sarrah Danziger's socio-poetic views of outsider-ish younger folk convey something of the transitional social mores New Orleans has always incubated. A more eerie sense of social transition is vividly evoked in second place winner Thomas Deaton's “Night Game” urban landscape painting of a shrouded, bat-wielding figure in a dark, empty playground, below.

Social dysfunction is set to a visual rumba beat in Cuban-New Orleanian Luis Cruz Azaceta's “Opioid Crisis," left, even as subtle spirits of place infuse Ben Depp's and Sarah French's lyrical photos and paintings. In all, this show evokes psychogeographic epiphanies that reflect broader global paradoxes. As curator Devlin put it, these works are “testaments of our time, but also signal that other, better futures can still be within reach.” Louisiana Contemporary : A Survey of Recent Work by Louisiana Artists, Through January 5th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Regina Scully at Octavia

It is unusual to encounter a body of work by any artist that touches on the extremes of existence, from the macro to the micro, from the cosmos to the human form, all coexisting simultaneously together. The phrase, “As above, so below,” was once employed by ancient sages, alchemists and astrologers to explain how universal patterns repeat in ways that could apply equally to earthly minutia and human destiny. This is not taught in art school. Regina Scully's flair for fusing arcane metaphysics and modern abstraction in ethereal paintings appears here, in this latest iteration of her quest to explore how things we are conditioned to see as opposites are really aspects of the unity of all creation.

Is the visual world filled with silent music? You might think so looking at works like “Inner Journey 30,” top, where the ebb and flow of magenta, gold and earth tone slashes of paint recall not only the lyrical drama of atmospheric turbulence but also the sweep of human history, the endless parade of migration and settlement that constitute the illusion of collective national identity.

Works such as “Mindscape 21,” above, with its suggestion of volcanic activity in an other-dimensional sea, take us to the fluid topography of Scully's earlier paintings where the macro or micro forms of continents, cities and regions are interwoven into eternally fluid and floating worlds, each pulsating with the inner dramas of lives and life forms that can never be known to us. Scully's ever-experimental compositions enter a new figurative realm in “Mindscape 26” where forms that appear from a distance as painterly slashes turn out to be nomadic figures staging a procession across the canvas.

No such human presence initially appears in the horizontal sweep of elemental forces in “Mindscape 24,” but look again and at the center is a suggestion of a sailing vessel on a stormy cosmic sea, detail above, an abstract seascape that the great 19th century maritime painter J.M.W. Turner might have envisioned in his most fantastical futuristic dreams. ~Bookhardt / Regina Scully: The House I Live In, Through Sept. 28, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tony Dagradi's Collage Sculptures at Ferrara

How is graphic art history like jazz history? It mostly isn't, but the two come together in the musical and graphical artistry of Tony Dagradi. Best known as the founder of the Astral Project band, Dagradi's ultra-smooth saxophone playing weaves in and out of the sounds of his fellow instrumentalists in what may be the closest thing to a classical contemporary jazz combo. Classical since, if you listen closely, you can hear the history of modern jazz reborn in sleek new forms. Dagradi brings a similar sense of context to these forty-four book sculptures, about which he says, "the juxtaposition of abstract shapes... is very much how I perceive the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm.”
 Modern jazz and comic superheroes both rose to prominence in midcentury America, so Dagradi's new “Graphic Novel Series” based on the vintage superheroes of his 1950s childhood seems especially in keeping with the midcentury timeframe of his musical influences. Since he favors collaboration and context, it makes sense that in “Heads Up – Ultimate Spiderman,” top, the flamboyant superhero framed by an old book is leaping out from a supporting cast of characters packed tightly as sardines into the composition. All are emoting, grunting and beaming dramatic expressions at the viewer in a way that replaces any formal story line with Spider Man sociology -- the collective fantasy realm from which he sprang fully formed, a magical being who could perform feats mere mortals could not. What links this collage sculpture with others based on old illustrations, many from early 20th century Compton's Encyclopedia sets, is the sense of wonder they all convey of a world brimming with mysteriously exotic people and creatures. In “Tea Ceremony,” another collage framed within another old book, a pastoral Japanese tea house and geisha appear in subtle colors contrasted by black and white views of steam locomotives, skyscrapers, businessmen and others from around the Western world and its colonies. For Dagradi, context is what matters and his collage sculptures immerse us in illustrations of vast multitudes of people and fantastic creatures as seen through the vintage cultural vision of Western eyes. ~Bookhardt / Diffusion: Hand Cut Book Sculptures by Tony Dagradi, Through Aug. 30, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.