Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Dancing String Bean" and more at the NOAAM

The French Quarter Fest is in full swing and the Treme is quiet today, soaking in the afternoon sun.

On Governor Nichols Street, the NOAAM (New Orleans African American Museum) presents a new exhibition featuring works from Eugene Martin (1938-2005), titled "Dancing String Bean: Paintings and Drawings by Eugene Martin".

The hall is lightened by the colors of several paintings, two of larger size, "The Happy Bartender" and "The Duchess of Texas", both 1994 and on the other side, four paintings, smaller but with the same construction: a background made of colors delineated by sharp lines building a frame and fluid shapes to describe the subject in the center and tell a story. Violet and brown are sometimes used to bring drama (Untitled 2000), but the message is usually happy with a touch of irony.

Then, I concentrated on the drawings, lined up carefully along the walls. The earlier ones, made with ink and bamboo sticks on paper, with weird little personages, cousins of "Ubu", like in "Avoiding Rush Hour" with an upside down moon. The drawings come to maturity with the next set. One of them gives the title to the exhibition.

When looking at these, the viewer, unknowingly, is engaged in the process of seing. The artist is using a well-known optical illusion (cognitive type) described by Joseph Jastrow who drew the famous "Rabbit or Duck?" (1899). Black or white, white or black, the viewer can choose or rather his/her brain. But this becomes too scientific, let yourself enjoy the subjects about happiness , love, dance, .... Just look again...The technique of the drawings is very clean and gracious in its simplicity.

Paintings from the artist can also be viewed in Baton-Rouge, at the Shaw Center for the Art during the exhibition titled "Beyond Black: Ed Clark, Eugene Martin and John T. Scott". The works are more challenging, with the same vivid colors but a sophisticated message. The same irony flavors the works from different periods: whimsical, playful, happy!

I am still discovering the prolific artist. My only regret about the exhibition is the small space ( used at its best by the curator) allowed for the show.

The energy of the colors and the subjects of Eugene Martin bring joy and happiness. Leaving the museum, I can hear a faint music. My imagination? Eugene Martin's works are jazzing.

NOAAM, photograph by the author

all other photographs, courtesy Marie Vinouze, curator of the exhibition.

"The Duchess of Texas", 1994

"Dancing String Bean"

The exhibition at the NOAAM

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