Thursday, August 18, 2016
Like a tune stuck in my head, a painting keeps haunting me. Since White Linen Night, among all the works of art I was exposed to, from the galleries, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Black Bull of Angola, 2016, from John Isiah Walton stays on my mind.
Why? Is it the subject? The colors? The style? The oil on canvas is of average size (60 x 48 inches) and represents a scene from the popular yearly rodeo which takes place at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a high security prison also called Angola. During the event, inmates get to ride the animals. In this painting, the artist has captured a glimpse of the action, depicting one of the facility's resident jumping on a ferocious bull. The bearded rider flung into the air, looks fearless in his striped shirt and bright blue pants. The powerful beast is bucking, teeth exposed, nostrils wide opened, resisting the grip. The scene painted with vigorous brushstrokes is set on a pink background. Upon a closer look, it appears that the canvas is primed with pink. Pink is found mixed with the sandy ground, underlines the shapes of the actors and even seeps through the massive body of the black bull.
Pink?... Pink is cutesy, girly, fake (" looking at life through pink glasses "). The mixture of red and white does not have the dramatic flavor of the former or the purity of the latter. Obviously, pink is not my preferred color and it took me a while to appreciate the work from Philip Guston! Pink is used largely in Pop art, murals, or neon works. Aggressive at times, it rarely generates strong emotions. It is associated with caring, compassion, love...far from this encounter between a bull and an inmate.
The artist's bold choice has kept me wondering: how can he render the charged atmosphere, create tension, keep the rawness and the vigor of the painting using such color? A drama in pink? How can pink become more savage, angry, violent than bloody red? The overall work is powerful with its mythological connotation. One cannot avoid thinking of the capture of the Cretan bull by Hercules. In this scene, the artist paints a hero in action, transforms the inmate, the banished, the renegade, into a half god during these few seconds of glory.
photograph by the author:
John Isiah Walton "Black Bull of Angola", 2016
at Boyd Satellite Gallery
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Evil Earth System, the latest exhibition at the Good Children Gallery in the Saint Claude Art District is a solo show from the multi media artist Lala . Started in collaboration with the Slovenian programmer Marko Plahuta, the project involves data gathering, analysis and a visual representation of the resulting material through object-sculptures, videos and installations, spread throughout the two-room space. The artist born in Sarajevo obtained a Bachelor and a Master of Fine Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb. She presently lives and works in New Orleans, Sarajevo and Zagreb.
The visit begins with a black and white video: Neologism, 2016, made of a succession of words starting with the prefix neo, flashing on a small sized screen during a five minutes loop: neonazi, neobank, neoludic, neomayonnaise, ..., from political to plain wacky. Prototype 7, a busy installation, follows the punchy introduction. Sixteen objects made with wood, gold leaf and glass, are scattered on a wood plank supported by two saw horses. They provide a frame to the artificial light from bare transparent bulbs diffused through their simple shapes: rectangles and circles. The crowded display is carefully staged to create a sweeping geometric abstract composition on the wall with the objects' shadows. Table 2 is a gathering of works related to concrete poetry. Constructed with the same material, wood, gold leaf and glass, the pieces display letters or prefixes on layers of glass, multiplied like a visual echo for a stronger impact. Two silkscreens are set on Table 3 , fan-like webs spread on a transparent screen, reminding of maps filled with data. Three more works complete the show in the first room. Using the technique of "verre églomisé", reverse painting with gold leaf on glass, the artist combines reflections of the surroundings and a single word for Neoscape, Neosphere and Neoscope. In contrast, the back room is set like an office, bare, with a few cushions on the floor in front of a wall screen and across, a table and a chair facing a second screen. On one side, the video Evil Earth Notebook produced in 2015, a succession of reflections, quotes, texts from the artist or poets along stunning views of landscapes, faced by a webpage filled with data related to the use of prefixes around the world. This room could be called "the repository" from which the exhibition is born. A two sided leaflet is available and provides cues about the show and the works.
Provocative? Maybe. The ludic introduction engenders a list of my own neowords: neome, neocreature, neoreality, ... What means neo? "new", "recent", "revived", "modified". How were the prefixes selected? neo, pro, anti, hyper, contra, pre, post, proto? The key to all these questions is found in the leaflet's lengthy text and can be resumed in two words: Twitter and poetry. The artist is giving a new life to the words by adding a prefix and through the installation Table 1 goes full circle: objectify the words, then add shadows to the object. Words are not final. What about the title of the show? It is a new world when data can be visualized at the click of a mouse. Why evil?
Lala fills the gallery with intellectually challenging and visually pleasing works.
photographs by the author
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Can you see a link between a leaf and an iceberg, hurricanes and galaxies, the brain cells of a mouse and your ear? Referring to rules of mathematics and geometry like the Golden ratio, the Fibonacci number and fractals, Sarah House's works reflect on her love of nature and her search for its "interconnectedness" through patterns. The twenty pieces selected for the exhibition Artist Spotlight: Sarah House at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art represent a diverse sampling of her work. The ceramist favors the media due to its versatility, combining shapes and colors, sculpture and painting. After obtaining a BFA from Temple University's Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, she was the recipient of several prestigious ceramic art residencies and graduated from Tulane University with a MFA.
In glass cases, on pedestals or attached to the walls, most of the sculptures have a "natural" look due to their earthy colors and unpolished surface. Spheres for Self-Similar or dodecahedrons for Ode to Mandelbrot are assembled to create the final work, which itself could be part of a bigger installation. Water Study 1 and 2, flat thick pieces of ceramic with an abrupt edge, appear to be made with a cookie cutter: leaves? coastlines? The title gives the answer. A series of works have a similar haptic roughness with mountains and deep valleys, creating bare, moon-like landscapes sprinkled with ocher to underline the relief. Among these, It's Alive 1 and 2 have dynamic features with the material falling from the pedestal, petrified in action, puddling on the floor.
The display is somewhat odd with a few sculptures placed at floor level in glass cases below traditional potteries from the permanent collection, and the narrow space allotted for the exhibition puts some constraints on the artist who created installations in other venues. Sarah House through her works allows us to consider the media beyond its utilitarian aspect and discover its potential for artistic expression. Following the visit, one will be looking for the universality of nature expressed through the ad infinitum repetition of primary models, varying in scale.
Can you see a link between mountains and tormented waters?
photographs by the author:
"Water Study 1"
"Ode to Mandelbrot"
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
A recent trip brought me to the Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi, where fifteen sculptures from Martin Payton are on display in the African-American gallery for the exhibition Rhythm and Movement, Sculpture by Martin Payton. The show is the occasion to look back at thirty years of the artist's career with works ranging from 1979 to 2011. Well-known in New Orleans for his public sculptures from Savoy, 1990-2001, along the Poydras Corridor, Damballah on the Loyola University campus to the Contemporary Art Center's ceiling, his most famous piece in the city, Spirit House, 2002, was created in collaboration with his mentor John T. Scott. After getting a BFA at Xavier University, he studied under Charles White at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles where he earned a MFA. Payton finds his inspiration in dance, music, charismatic characters, creating works heavily influenced by his African-American heritage.
From the entrance, the visitor is facing a massive piece representative of the sculptor's technique, the assemblage of recycled industrial steel parts. Referring to the carriers of torches during the Mardi Gras parades, Flambeau, 1997, defines the setting of the room with its symmetrical imposing shape dividing the gallery in two sides, each lined up with smaller sculptures on pedestals along the walls. Abundant leaflets are available, providing a short biography, artist statement, title and one line description of each piece. At first, the layout of the monochrome black sculptures appears monotonous and the silence becomes oppressive. Mali Andante, 2009, and Stitt, 2004, characterized by simple shapes assembled to create sober and harmonious pieces, are a great introduction to a detailed visit. Stitt, one of my favorite, is like a syncopation, a curved line suspended in the air, off balance, followed by its more elaborate version Dolphy, 2007, farther down. Three sculptures in the round, T-Bar Giga, 2009, Bamana Bourrée, 2009 and Mali Andante, 2009, are laid on dark steel pedestals muddling their silhouettes. In Jarrett, 2004 and Tyner, 2001, Payton provides visual cues about musicians and their instrument, but the two compositions stay flat and static. Sorcerer, 2010, is a more elaborate symmetrical sculpture, with a body surmounted by a symbolic circle and two antennae-like appendages while Ibeji, 2004, referring to twin births is a combination of two geometric forms, masculine and feminine.
At the end of my visit, I realized that most of Payton's sculptures were two dimensional. This is somewhat confounding in view of the artist switching early from painting to sculpting due to his interest in the three-dimensional approach of the latter. Apparently, working with welded steel requires the addition of heavy bolts resulting in two-sided compositions (one "good" and one "bad" side) displayed along the walls. However, the sculptures in the round would have benefited from a better location in the center of the room, enabling the visitors to appreciate them fully.
The unique exhibition allows a better grasp of the artist's work, heavily influenced by his mentor John T. Scott and one can appreciate the constancy of subjects, media and techniques over the past three decades. Related to music, natural forces (Kilimanjaro, 1999) or charismatic leaders (Avery, 1999), all of Payton's works aim to higher goals and gain from being interpreted in the context of culture, identity and heritage.
What shines throughout the show is the artist's ability to give a soul to the dark cold metal.
photographs by the author:
"Bamana Bourrée", 2009
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Three sculptors showing in the St-Claude Art District ought to get mentioned before their exhibit is taken down next week: Jeffrey Rinehart, Aaron McNamee at the Good Children Gallery and Cynthia Scott at The Front.
Jeffrey Rinehart's four sculptures at Good Children are spread in the backroom, allowing a walk around them while the height of the pedestals facilitates a bird eye view. They are made of gypsum and the pure white of the material is highlighted by the artificial grass-green they are laid on. One of them, Complex Napoleon, 2015, combines a Neoclassical portrait of the emperor crowned by the symbolic laurel wreath, resting on a pair of female limbs in a sensual pose, and a thin outstretched hand hiding his sexual organs. The idea of adding feminine features to the historical figure, questioning his gender, is provocative and fits in the Metamodernist movement which is about rewriting history, reconstructing, remixing and the creation of challenging works.
In the front room, Endless Schnoz, 2016 and Lips and Noses, 2016, from Aaron McNamee through repetition and accumulation are all about the symbolic protuberance. Organ of smell, the nose, we are told, defines character and from Cleopatra to Cyrano de Bergerac has made history. The totemic pieces are a celebration of the phallic emblem while Son/Father, 2016, a wall sculpture featuring a young hand holding a large finger/penis, rejuvenates the myth of Kronos and the Freudian father complex in this playful and irreverent version.
Macbeth provides the key to the work and its title Poor Players, Strutting and Fretting, 2016.
photographs by the author:
Jeffrey Rinehart, "Complex Napoleon", 2015
Aaron McNamee, "Endless Schnoz", 2016
Cynthia Scott "Poor Players, Strutting and Fretting", 2016
Friday, January 29, 2016
The Infinite Line written by Briony Fer and published in 2004 is a book dedicated to a fertile period in visual art, the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism during the late 1950's until 1970. In eleven chapters, she offers enlightening discussions about seriality in art, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, movies, through her vast knowledge of artists and their works.
With a dedicated topic for each chapter, Fir presentation stays focused on one subject, "the power and meaning of repetition". Starting with "Picture", moving on to "Series" and "Infinity", the progression smoothly leads to "List", "Mobility", reaching "Utopia" in the last chapter. Through her presentation of artists and their works, she makes the point and her expertise confers a scholarly quality to her discussions. She features numerous female artists like Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Yayoi Kusama or Louise Bourgeois and refers abundantly to the Arte Povera movement and its members. Sometimes arduous to read due to the abundance of referenced material, at the same time engrossing because of it, shedding light on Minimalism and its higher mission, the book is also filled with illustrations appropriately spread along the text.
The abrupt ending leaves the future opened to the use of repetition, ultimate mean of capturing infinity, a non-existent entity, and the addition of new chapters written about artists engaged in expressing the invisible.
Untitled, Eva Hesse, 1967
Monday, January 18, 2016
For the new year, the Carroll Gallery on the Uptown Tulane campus features one of its own, Aaron Collier, Assistant Professor at the University. Sharing his recent adventures in painting, he is presenting twenty-one of his most recent works. The three rooms of the gallery are filled with paintings, collages and decoys in a judicious display presented by the artist himself for the opening of Something There.
Doom exudes from the large primal landscapes lining up the gallery's main room. Composed while Collier was reading the Book of Job from the Old Testament, the desolate scenery, with earthy tones and blurry shapes, evoke a threatening world in which the undefined becomes the threat itself. Revisitation, created last Summer for the 10th anniversary of the Katrina disaster, includes a wood piece retrieved from a ravaged house with foam still attached to it, like a parasite. Collier's preferred prop for his paintings is an owl, the symbol of wisdom, but also of death. In A Certain Uncertainty, the quiet bird stands guard next to the painting, serene and menacing, adding an ambiguous feeling. The compositions have no focal point and are defined by blurry lines and dark colors. The superimposition of browns and grays creates an effect of depth and subtle "lightning" in some areas of the works, keeping the viewers wandering in the landscapes. The contrast is striking when walking in the two satellite galleries. The pieces of smaller sizes radiate energy, like a promise of happiness. The vibrant saturated colors invade the space, screaming at the viewer their message of hope. Even the three owls perched on a ledge take an harmless turn, disguised in candy colors. However, the artist's message stays focused on doom as we come back to the first room before exiting the exhibition.
In his presentation, Collier refers to Gerhard Richter, Zubarán, John Singer Sargent and describes the conception of his works as an adventure starting with the juxtaposition of photographs of scenes of disasters and minutely decorated interiors. From then on, the images blur, dissolve and reemerge on the canvas, leaving "colors and compositions flow and impose themselves". Chaos versus harmony, tragedy versus happiness, the painter translates his vision of life with colors, constantly shifting between extremes.
To quote the artist: " Paint is the perfect medium for picturing paradox: painting itself is an in-between act, a simultaneous doing and undoing."