Sunday, February 20, 2011

Abstract art in Baton Rouge, LA

Baton Rouge this week-end?

The LSU Museum of Art presents three abstract artists, from African-American descent, John T. Scott, Eugene Martin and Edward Clark. It is a great occasion to visit the Shaw Center for the Arts, a sober six-storied building located along the Mississippi river, downtown Baton Rouge. It is a quiet day in an otherwise busy venue, home to the Baton-Rouge Symphony, the LSU School of Art Gallery, the LSU Museum of Art, the Manship Theater (325 seats), classrooms and amenities such as a sushi restaurant on the rooftop.

The place is eerie (early Saturday) but I feel privileged to be here, alone among all these works. After a short introduction with enlightening comments about the artists and abstract art in the African-American community, the exhibition progresses with paintings and sculptures.

The giant canvasses from Edward Clark occupy most of the first and second room, bringing colors and movement to a point of romanticism, rendering abstract landscapes impressionistic, like "Louisiana Red" 2004, red sky, dark swamps, and infinite pale waters reflecting a peaceful , ethereal glow with the four elements air-fire, water and earth interdependent in the painting.

This is followed by "Luminous Turbulence", 2002, pinks and greys, "The Wave" 2006, blues and browns with the brush leaving deep crevasses on the canvas like the lines used to date trees, telling the history of the landscape.

Ed Clark is known for his "push broom" technique, applying the color on the canvass with a broom, bringing spontaneity and a physical dimension to his paintings. He can be qualified as a member of the American action painting movement.

Occasionally, he gives some relief to the canvass by using dry pigments, clay or soil from the countryside he is depicting, like in "The Crescent", 2006.

Smaller paintings, from the 60's and 70's, have a characteristic oval shape. Mainly related to voyages made by the artist, they evoke places with colours, and also bring memories of smells and sounds. The painter travelled extensively and produced the "Bahia Series", 1988, pink, violet , blue, the "Yucatan Series", 1976, turquoise, violet and pale blue, or the "Southern Light", 1978, green, black, blue. I found these paintings less spontaneous. The oval shape freezes the dynamic of the works.

The artist is well represented with 8 giant canvasses, 5 paintings in the oval series, and smaller works. For me, the "Wasted Landscape", 1961, seen above, is the most powerful of the large canvasses with its violent colors and message.

John T. Scott, a son from New Orleans, well known for his kinetic sculptures, is painting and sculpting music with his "Jazz thinking."
The works on display are mainly sculptures, like "Diddle Bow #1", 1983. The "Diddle Bow Series" was inspired by the African warriors who were using the hunting bows to make music after the fight. " Ritual Cutter 1&2", 1978, features two instruments of torture, in bright orange colour and "Dancing at the Crossroads", 1996 occupies a whole wall. The colours are a mixture of Mardi Gras and African exuberance. One can read a story, but the work does not use the space well, hybrid, between a wall decoration and a sculpture.
My preferred works are half a dozen sculptures from the "Circle Dance Series", light, gracious, of small sizes, made in patinated bronze which gives them an eternal look. They are creating rhythm in space with their circles of dance, strings and thin hammers. Like strange instruments, they could be played. "Boarded Back Window", 2001, "Kloee's Dream", "Zydeco Two Steps" with the lines of a dancer enhanced by the play with the shadows.
Three "Ethiopian Graffiti" complete the display.
The exhibition ignores his woodcut prints, but it is another story, and they would not fit in this colored display.

The third artist, Eugene Martin, was born in Washington, DC and later in life, moved to Louisiana. His paintings are a mixture of abstract and figurative. The painter never sided for a style and cubism, surrealism, color field techniques can be found in the same work. In a way, this makes him unique.
The colours are bold, sometimes just gaudy. His satirical abstract pieces send a cartoonish message, but in a sophisticated way, confusing the viewer.

The artist wrote: " They are opposing forces in all living things. My work reflect this and stirs up a contrast of emotions."

This exhibition is very rich and helps me understand these three artists, inspired by their roots, including colors and themes.
They were pioneers using the new abstract language, building their own voice. They will keep being heard.
The gallery's space is well used, and the abundance of works does not translate into overload. They are carefully displayed, each in its best light, without infringing on the next.
My eyes filled with colours, my next visit is the roof of the Shaw Center to enjoy the timid Spring sun and look at the lazy Mississippi.

1. "Wasted Landscape" 1961, Edward Clark

2. "Ethiopian Graffiti #3", John T. Scott

3. " Untitled" 2000, Eugene Martin

4. View from the top floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts

photographs 1, 2, 3, courtesy of the LSU Museum of Art
photograph 4 by the author

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Water, boats, history

This new season, the Newcomb Gallery on the Uptown campus at Tulane University, presents Reflections on Water in American Painting, an exhibition of 51 paintings from the Arthur J. Phelan Collection.

The painting in the first room gives the tone to this event. It represents early steamboats and was part of the display for the " Exposition Universelle" in Paris, 1855. It's interest is purely historical.
(photograph 1)

The paintings, all of modest size, represent boats, or more romantic views, with the sea and countryside in the background during the Hudson River School's period.

The realistic paintings, like postcards represent pleasant subjects, sea, beaches, rivers, swamps, succeeding to boats and bridges but none of them give us a whiff of sea breeze.

The collection has more a historical interest than artistic.

In 1913, the Armory Show brought a storm from Europe and American artists embraced the new ideas ... one century ago.

1. "Bateaux a Vapeur Geants", Hippolyte Victor Valentine Sebron, 1853
2." Steamboat at Night, Mississippi River", Charles M. Mcllhenney, ca. 1885

3." Beach Scene", Aiden Lassell Ripley, 1925

photographs 1 and 2 by the author

photograph 3 courtesy Newcomb Gallery, Tulane University.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Creativity and Disease

Still thinking about Wojnarowicz's works, I read " Creativity and Disease: How illness affects literature, art and music" by Philip Sandblom, M.D., Ph.D.. First published in 1982, the book is a collection of anecdotes: Matisse was trained as a lawyer but following appendicitis became a painter, Schumann was a pianist but became a composer because he suffered from arthritis... The author describes mental diseases, congenital malformations, aging, defects of sight, hearing, pain, tuberculosis and their effects on the artists and their creativity. He also makes an early disclaimer, stating that the content is not scientific. It is a great reading, giving some insight into the artists lives and their challenges. Visiting the Hirshorn, I finally understood the paper cut collages from Henri Matisse, made at the end of his life. He was unable to stand due to a huge ventral hernia, but kept drawing on the walls around his bed with a long cane. A picture of the scene is included in the book with 82 other illustrations. It contains also 154 references for further reading. Overall, the book brings a new dimension to the artists works, allowing the reader to look at them under another angle. Ultimately, artists have to overcome their human conditions to become creators. photograph by the author "La Negresse", Henri Matisse, 1952

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Openings and closing

First Saturday of the month, the galleries on Julia Street are opened late for the new exhibitions. The crowd is thinner than usual, it is cold in New Orleans.
Arthur Roger Gallery presents Ida Kohlmeyer, a well-known artist in this city, defined as an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor. The collector can buy small works of great quality making this exhibition a "do-not-miss". Daily, I am exposed to Kohlmeyer's "Lollipops" on my way to work.

What about young artists? I noticed Steve Teeters from Lubbock ,Texas,

brought by Prospect 1.5 to Le Mieux Gallery. The artist is using an easy language to speak to us about corporate America through his sculptures. The message is clear.

The Heriard-Cimino Gallery is presenting Carlos Betancourt with photographs and sculptures. Vibrant, full of life, an explosion of colors and shapes with favorite objects, flowers, toy bears, candies, beads for the compositon. The photographs are guaranteed to put the viewer in a great mood. (...decorative, superficial, ennoying with their cute exuberance and obviously favorites, with some red dots already on the walls).

The closing party for Prospect 1.5 is taking place at an interesting venue: Second Line Stages, advertised as a state of the art sound stages located in the Garden District. In a corner, small works of art are displayed (poorly) for the silent auction organized to raise money for Prospect 2. The total art on sale will raise maybe 10 000 dollars...a pitance compared to the budget of such event.

This year, Prospect 1.5 is a make-over with 50 artists.
My opinion about this event? random, poorly advertised. I visited two galleries in my neighborhood, The scope of the event was a far cry from Prospect 1.

So far, I have not experienced anything close to the Biennale in Venice, but time will tell.

Waiting to see Prospect 2.

photographs by the author
1. "Semiotic Staff #11", 1987, Ida Kohlmeyer
2. " Nest Egg" Steve Teeters
3. The entrance at Throwdown 1.5, Second Line Stages