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.