Herb Roe, “Courir de Mardi Gras – Valse du Vacher”, oil on canvas, 24″ x 36″, 2012, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Courir de Mardi Gras – McGee’s Medley”, oil on canvas, 30″ x 40″, 2013, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Tee Courir – Number 27″, oil on canvas, 5″ x 7”, 2013, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Tee Courir – Number 29″, oil on canvas, 7” x 5″‘, 2013, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Danse a’ Cheval II”, graphite on paper, 18″ x 24″, 2012, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Cajun Fiddler I”, hand-painted lino block print, 10″ x 12″, 2012, photograph courtesy of the artist
Herb Roe, “Cajun Fiddler II”, hand-painted lino block print, 10″ x 12″, 2012, photograph courtesy of the artist
by Reggie Rodrigue
It’s late April, and Mardi Gras is just a memory in our collective rearview mirror in Louisiana. However, the bon temps keep rolling! Festival International de Louisiane is about to kick off this Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Lafayette, LA. This 5-day world music festival juggernaut,”featuring six music stages, food court areas, street musicians and animators, arts and crafts boutiques, art galleries, beverage stands, cultural workshops, international cooking demonstrations and a world music store,” (www.festivalinternational.com) will take over Downtown Lafayette for another year.
In the midst of all of the international frivolity will be Lafayette artist Herb Roe. For this year’s installment of Festival International de Louisiane, Roe has decided to open an exhibition of his “Courir de Mardi Gras” paintings, drawings and prints in the Garage, located at 205B West Vermillion St., Lafayette, LA, which is – surprise, surprise – a former garage. The location itself will be ideal for viewing Roe’s work as the Garage will be right beside the Vermilion St. Open Market once Festival begins.
To anyone from outside South Louisiana, Roe’s “Courir de Mardi Gras” works may seem like something out of a Surrealist phantasmagoria, with their grotesque depictions of otherworldly protagonists running amok in a bucolic setting. However, Roe is a died-in-the-wool realist painter, and his “Courir de Mardi Gras” works faithfully depict what the celebration of Mardi Gras in rural South Louisiana actually looks like in real life – minus the occasional post-apocalyptically red sky (You can’t keep it real all the time – as any Dave Chappelle fan knows). In Roe’s work, one comes face-to-face with the bizarre yet rich tradition of the rural Mardi Gras.
Participants in the celebration make their own costumes, replete with homemade mesh masks and conical dunce caps. They ride on horseback through the small towns of Acadiana, creating mischief, teasing young children, performing feats of daring and chasing chickens donated by locals for the communal gumbo pot to be shared at the end of the day. In rural Acadiana, Mardi Gras is a day when the natural order of things is overturned and mayhem and merriment rule before the Catholic fasting season of Lent begins.
What’s especially engaging about Roe’s work is the perspective he has on this Louisiana tradition – for Roe isn’t originally from Louisiana. He was born in Ohio, and spent his childhood and adolescence between that state and Kentucky. Roe’s work with Lafayette, LA muralist Robert Dafford lead him to the Hub City and the subject of his current work. Certainly, he has spent a great deal of time living and working in Louisiana – enough to be considered a local by our standards. Yet, in his paintings of the Courir de Mardi Gras, one begins to understand his unique perspective of being an outsider on the inside track to one of Louisiana’s most mysterious and mystifying cultural experiences. Roe’s application of paint is almost clinical and diagnostic in it’s realism, and points toward his status as an observer outside of the scenarios which he is depicting. However, the scenarios are so removed from the daily currents of normal life that Roe’s realism is swallowed up in the tidal flow of color, pattern and pageantry that he is depicting. In this way, the wall between observer and participant breaks down in much the same way that the Mardi Gras celebration breaks down societal inhibitions and hierarchies. When viewing Roe’s “Courir de Mardi Gras” works, one succumbs to the ecstatic, drunkenness of the images in all of their obsessively detailed, hyperrealistic, stranger-than-fiction glory. They are a profound visual treat for anyone, whether you’re from Mamou, LA, Moscow or Madagascar, and the perfect visual accompaniment for the joyous celebration that is Festival International de Louisiane.
Herb Roe’s “Courir de Mardi Gras” exhibition at the Garage (205B West Vermillion St., Lafayette, LA) will be open during Festival International’s officially scheduled hours. For further information on Festival times and other Festival related information, visit its website, http://festivalinternational.com/site.php.
To visit Herb Roe’s artist website, follow this link: http://www.chromesun.com/
All photographs by Kerry Griechen, courtesy of the artist and My Eye Photography
by Reggie Rodrigue
Having a wandering eye is typically not something of which to be proud – unless one is a photographer. In that case, having a wandering eye is essential. Curiosity about the physical world around oneself and the intense obsession with capturing an image of it either objectively or subjectively (and who can really tell the difference between the two anymore) is the basis for all of photography. Mature photographers typically focus on one or two particular corners of reality; however, every serious photographer I know started his career with an indomitable drive to document his life and travels in light, photographing everything that his insatiable eye could consume until he found a subject or a process that truly spoke to him.
Lafayette, LA‘s Kerry Griechen is a photographer of many things. However, his eloquence comes to the fore when he is focusing on the natural wonders, urban landscape, and people of South Louisiana. Griechen’s body of work offers viewers a dazzling and beautiful mosaic of life in the region from a mother roseate spoonbill feeding her fledgling in the wild or the time-worn pastiche of a decrepit warehouse facade to a New Orleanian starting his day by hosing-off a French Quarter sidewalk.
In truth, none of these subjects may be particularly new or novel to South Louisiana’s native population. They may not even be new or novel to people outside of the state. There isn’t much in the way of disquieting or provocative imagery in Griechen’s photographs. He isn’t exploring some esoteric or conceptual process in his photography, either; although, he does dabble in Photoshop techniques every once in a while to highly mixed results that veer toward the dismissible. Therefore, some avant guardists may wonder about the artistic merit of such work. One can hear their groans: “Beauty for beauty’s sake? Bah! Humbug! Bring me an MFA grad who eats glass, takes photographs of his excrement and subjects said photographs to a complex chemical process that renders them illegible! Now that’s art!” That may very well be art in the right hands, but a straight-forward, beautiful image of the world can be art as well – in the right hands. Griechen proves this over and over.
In his most arresting photographs, Griechen focuses his sharp eye for composition, pattern, texture and color on mostly solitary figures and quiet moments devoid of any human presence. Through his simple process, he manages to mine some complex and layered images of Southern Louisiana that are both mundane, serene and, simultaneously, breath-taking in their attention to detail. When other people may walk past a dirty, brick wall festooned with an electrical meter, water pipes and graffiti, Griechen sees an opportunity to zoom-in tightly on the particulars and create a quasi-abstraction that would look smart beside a Kandinsky. The combination of a fence and the corner of an Acadian house with a stairway leading to its garconniere offered another photographic opportunity to Griechen: in this instance, he deftly exploited the angles of the architecture to create an image of visual complexity to rival any of M.C. Escher‘s imaginary labyrinths. Griechen has taken a photograph of a walking path surreptitiously created between a group of sugarcane harvesting trucks that visually echoes a path through an autumnal wood. He captures lush, green water lily pads or cypress trees framing and offering a sense of depth and scale to lone and elegant egrets in the wild. He finds visual drama and dynamics in an open doorway which leads from the blunt geometry of a worn, green French Quarter wall to a luxurious and inviting courtyard or the sight of a rainbow as seen through the nets hanging from a trawling boat. He also finds something poetic in the sight of a man putting away a pack of cigarettes into his jeans pocket while lingering in the doorway of a New Orleans tourist trap. To come full circle – if one looks closely to the left portion of this image, one can spy a three-quarter profile view of the graffitied wall mentioned at the top of this paragraph.
It’s no secret that in many respects, Griechen is tackling some well-worn, cliched Louisiana subjects, but it is the depth and precision of his response that rescues them from banality and superficiality. That, in and of itself, is an art. There is something to be said for a body of work that simply and effectively renews one’s interest in the world around oneself with all of its wonder and beauty. For all of those people who cannot accept an unabashedly beautiful, if somewhat conventional, image as art, I have this to say: artistic rigor is one thing; artistic rigor mortis is another thing, entirely. Too many artists these days confuse artistic rigor with difficulty, obtuseness and the idea that beauty is anathema when beauty (whichever way it is achieved) is really the name of the game and the game itself.
Some people find beauty in nature or the streets. Some people find beauty in geometry or abstraction. Others find beauty in ideas. Some find beauty in sexually charged material or blood, guts and excrement, and others find beauty in nothing.
However, the best people find beauty in everything!
Kerry Griechen is currently exhibiting his work in Lafayette Consolidated Government’s City Hall building on the corner of University Ave. and St. Landry St. in Lafayette, LA until the first week of May 2013.
To view more works by Griechen online, visit his website www.myeyephotos.com
by Reggie Rodrigue
Stephanie Patton, “Intersection,” vinyl, batting and muslin, 2013, 62 x 60 x 4 inches, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Troy Dugas, “Rye Whiskey Blue,” vintage labels mounted to paper, 2012, 72 x 72 inches, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Patterns. They’ve always held a fascination for us. We divine them from nature. We see them emerge in our own lives. We reconstruct them. We interpret, alter and interpolate them.
In truth, being able to see, recognize and interpret patterns is crucial to the survival of the human species. Without some sort of pattern recognition, no higher-order organism could function or survive or be called a higher-order organism, for that matter. This is because pattern is intrinsically linked to organization. Pattern is in our DNA, our brain structure, along with the rest of creation.
Pattern is also that upon which we build our digital lives and affect change in the real world of the 21st century. In the digital realm, we use complex algorithms – a finite set of mathematical procedures performed in a proscribed sequence – to compute vast amounts of data that would otherwise be impossible to do without algorithms. From these computations, we can begin to interpret patterns in the data. By doing so, we can better understand a pattern that may be an invisible or underlying cause of an issue which confronts us such as climate change, traffic flow or any number of other complex problems that are bigger than one mind can bear.
Currently at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans, two Lafayette, LA artists who bring pattern to the fore in their own works are exhibiting: Stephanie Patton and Troy Dugas. Within both bodies of work, the two artists begin with a simple premise, a minimum of materials, and a highly repetitive process. However, their finalized works speak to the complexity, beauty and meaning that can unfold from such humble and rudimentary origins.
Stephanie Patton is a multimedia artists who currently lives and works in between Lafayette, LA and New Orleans, LA. She received a BFA in Painting from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1993 and an MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996. After this, she spent some time living in New York City, engaging in the art scene there as well as taking classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where she honed her skills as a comedian. In 2001, Patton returned to Lafayette, LA and continues to grow her career as an artist as well as an educator. She also became a member of the wildly successful New Orleans artists’ collective, The Front.
Stephanie Patton, “Strength,” vinyl, batting and muslin, 2013, 79 x 79 x 15 inches, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Stephanie Patton, “Valor,” vinyl, batting and muslin, 2013, 81 x 81 x 15 inches, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Stephanie Patton, “Meeting,” vinyl, batting and muslin, 2013, 55 x 86 x 17 inches, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Patton’s exhibition at Arthur Roger Gallery is titled “Private Practice.” The title is now part of a running joke with Patton’s work. Her last exhibition at The Front was titled “General Hospital.” Both titles refer to soap operas/dramas centered around doctors and medical environments.While the thought of naming one’s art exhibition after such processed cheese from television is extremely humorous, there is another point to the titles. They offer a point of entry and a certain amount of accessibility for the viewing of Patton’s Postminimalist works. The titles – with their allusions to drama, tension, sickness, healing and recovery – give viewers a clue that Patton’s works are more than just exercises in design and pattern.
Most of the works on display in “Private Practice” are quilted and shaped wall sculptures composed of white vinyl, batting and muslin, which hover and undulate before the viewer like some sort of hybrid between a cloud, a work by Frank Stella and a mandala. The works are anodyne, yet forceful and rigorous. Patton has found a way to take soft materials associated with rest and transmute them into a series of objects that speak of strength, presence, perseverance, and healing. It is an impressive feat, and viewing these pieces puts one in the frame of mind to think about, not only the more abstract and metaphysical ideas engendered in the work but, also, the thought, time, work, skill and care that went into sewing and composing it.
Stephanie Patton, “Conquer,” Video, 8 minutes 8 seconds, 2013, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
The real tour-de-force of Patton’s exhibition is a video, however. “Conquer” is 8 minutes and 8 seconds of gut-wrenching pain and claustrophobia followed by sublime relief and stoic transcendence. The video begins with a close-up of Patton’s head, neck and shoulders covered in a tight latticework of band-aids which gives her the look of a badly sculpted, clay bust. She stands before her work “Intersection.” The work acts as a formal backdrop to the action in the video. The action begins with Patton searching for an appropriate band-aid to pull. She finds one, and then … RIP! The pain of the action is palpable, and it just keeps going for what seems like an eternity of band-aid ripping; however, it is riveting. One winces and squirms while Patton steadily removes her dummy mask, keeping time with the sounds of her breathing and those nearly interminable separations of adhesive bandage from flesh. By the end of the video, Patton’s full face emerges from its cocoon. One can almost feel the blood coursing through her inflamed skin. Her wide, watery eyes stare out at the viewer with a startling amount of restraint; yet, there is also much in the way of clarity, openness and beauty in her gaze as well. It’s a brief moment of silent reflection and equanimity … and a challenge to the viewer to move through whatever pain is stifling his/her life into a similar state of unshakable grace.
If you would like to view Stephanie Patton’s video “Conquer,” please follow this link to the Arthur Roger Gallery website.
Troy Dugas, “St. Jerome #4,” European liquor labels on paper, 60 x 60 inches, 2012, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Troy Dugas, “Fragancia,” cigar labels on cut paper, 47 x 47 inches, 2013, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
Speaking of unshakable grace, artist Troy Dugas has that in spades as well. One needs such things to produce work at the same caliber as Dugas’ vintage label collages.
Early in his professional life, Dugas began working with a particular form of collage that involves using duplicates of the same image, rather than the usual pastiche of dissimilar images and materials that typifies most collage. To put it in mathematical terms (which somehow seems fitting), if the usual form of collage is a process of addition, then Dugas’ form of collage is a process of multiplication – amplifying a single element into what seems like an ecstatic, geometric infinity of pattern. In earlier works, Dugas used identical, vintage prints of ships at sea and flower arrangements to create images that mimicked what one would see if one were to look at the original images through a prismatic lens or the compound eyes of an insect.
Today, the focus of Dugas’ work is on creating abstract designs, second-hand portraits and still lifes with large quantities of vintage product labels.
Dugas abstract works mimic sacred geometry, calling to mind the sort of patterns one would find in a church, mosque or temple. From afar, they take the form of mandalas and are quite meditative in their overall impact.
For the uninitiated, the shock comes when one realizes that these exquisite works are made of old labels for liquor, cigars, fish and canned vegetables, among other commodities. At first, discovering this is a wonderful surprise; however, if one thinks about the meaning behind such work long enough, one reaches a gray area where marketing and spirituality rub shoulders a little to comfortably with one another. This forces one to wonder whether these are glorified advertisements or the sincere works of an artist on his own spiritual path. Personally, I tend to think the latter is closer to the truth.
In an age where everything, including our own digital lives on social media websites, is a product to be marketed and advertised ad nauseum, it is difficult to find a space for reflection and spiritual pursuit that eludes the dictates of “the market.” While Dugas’ works are certainly part and parcel of the overall system of capitalism (they are being sold at New Orleans’ poshest gallery after all) and are composed of the refuse of this system, they still manage to take the viewer somewhere beyond the daily grind of consumption – a space of pure, Platonic freedom.
Dugas is involved in a game of extreme subversion. He begins a work with a pile of the lowest form of art and creates something wholly ineffable and transitive. In the context of our time, there is something truly transgressive about Dugas’ work in that it exudes skill (countering the prevailing rubric of “deskilling” in art today), it obviously takes much time and patience to complete it (two things of which most people have very little these days), and most importantly it turns pop culture and pop art on its head. Given enough green bean labels and time, Dugas can create a work of art on par with a Byzantine mosaic or a Buddhist mandala. He metaphorically takes Warhol’s soup can and runs with it in the other direction. By slicing and dicing commodity labels into a million little pieces and recontextualizing them, Dugas points to a way out of the consumerist paradigm by diving right into and through it.
Troy Dugas, “Fayum Clos du Calvaire,” European liquor labels on wood panel, 48 x 48 inches, 2012, photogrpah courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
However, Dugas has recently decided to go in other directions as far as the type of images he produces. His “Fayum” series is a case in point. The product labels have remained a constant and pattern still plays a key role in shaping the work, but Dugas deploys these to compose representational images which riff on the tradition of Coptic Fayum painting. This type of work flourished in Egypt during the Roman occupation of the country at the tale end of the Roman Empire.
Fayum paintings were typically made of encaustic or tempera on wood panel, and they represented living portraits of deceased individuals. These portraits were painted during an individual’s lifetime, displayed in his/her home, and then placed over the head of his/her mummy as a reminder of what the deceased looked like when he/she was alive. Fayum paintings were basically the Graeco-Roman innovation on the ancient Egyptian funerary mask.
While unequivocally beautiful, Dugas’ “Fayum Series” complicates an already complex and hybridized tradition. These works have a particular sort of resonance for our time, bringing to mind the collapse of a civilization (possibly our own included); the atemporality of our digital age where information, ideas, art, and design from vastly different eras coexist through various media simultaneously and are equally valued; an exploration of the colonialist impulses of much modern art such as Picasso and Matisse’s osmotic response to African art and our own colonialist polemics in the Middle East today; and a porous view of individual identity. Beside the infiltration of corporate logos in these works replicating ancient funerary paintings of people who actually were alive at one point in time, Dugas throws another conceptual monkey wrench in the proceedings by basing some of the works in the series on contemporary arrest photographs found on the internet. It’s a chilling touch that begs viewers to answer the uncomfortable question of what posterity and history have in store for them.
Troy Dugas, “Still Life Cactus,” assorted labels mounted to wood panel, 28 x 35 inches, 2013, photograph courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery
The specter of modernism haunts Dugas’ “Still Life” Series a little more lightly than his “Fayum” Series, if no less significantly. Here, Dugas breaks with his convention of using a single type of label. He employs an unprecedented assortment of labels to approximate the varying colors, textures and techniques utilized in modernist still lifes. Dugas’ obsessive technique seems to loosen in these works, affording them a sense of playfulness and breezy, if scattered, sensuality.
Together, Patton and Dugas’ current artworks afford viewers vital insight into the ways pattern can be more than simple decoration. Before the onset of modernism and postmodernism in Western culture, there was much meaning invested in pattern. Viewed as symbols of status and origin, pattern was used as a tool to visually order and label the world around oneself. Because of this, every pattern had a fixed meaning. This view of pattern generally broke down under the influence of the modernist impulse to purge symbolism from visual culture. Postmodernism then relegated pattern to being a handmaiden to style and design. The beauty of the contemporary use of pattern is that now it has a freedom of use unafforded to it in the past and it can carry a plethora of meanings depending on its contextualization. This is because we approach pattern from a multitude of different perspectives in our own contemporary moment.
With Patton and Dugas, we have two examples of contemporary artists reinvigorating past forms and materials within new contexts. Their works hold the mirror up to our own complex lives in subtle yet profound ways, unearthing and reflecting undercurrents and patterns of reality. We are given the responsibility of recognizing the patterns and determining their significance.
Stephanie Patton’s “Private Practice” and Troy Dugas’ “The Shape of Relics” are both on view at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans until April 20, 2013.
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
A cover of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the novel “The Great Gatsby,” the penultimate meditation on the dark heart of America in the Roaring 20’s, the author F. Scott Fitzgerald introduces his readers to a profoundly denatured landscape – a modern wasteland – known as the Valley of Ashes. It is a toxic zone where industrial ash is dumped between the embarrassingly affluent, new money enclave of West Egg, Long Island and the bright lights and big dreams of New York City. In the context of the novel, the Valley of Ashes symbolizes the spiritual, social and environmental decay that is the end result of a life spent in the unbridled pursuit of wealth, consumption and pleasure at any cost.
Within Fitzgerald’s wasteland, particular interest is paid to signage and advertisements. As the American economic engine of the 1920’s raced into its seemingly dazzling future with the fury of a hellbent Duesenberg after WWI, advertising was there to stoke it’s fire. Consumerist culture reached a new apex in the 1920’s due in large part to the nascent proliferation of newspapers, magazines, leaflets, billboards, electric/neon signage and radio. All of these media converged on the nation and advertised the latest and greatest innovations to a public desperate to move past the horrors of the war into a modern, gleaming pleasure dome of unknown convenience and luxury.
The cultural landscape of the nation succumbed to desire, and Fitzgerald was keenly aware of this. The most potent and terrifying symbol in “The Great Gatsby” is not the Valley of Ashes itself, but a faded billboard located in this liminal zone. The billboard advertises the practice of occulist, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. The billboard simply presents the large, bespectacled eyes of the doctor hovering over all of the desolation. On one hand, the billboard represents the eyes of God judging America from on high. On the other hand, the billboard obliquely represents an erosion of progressive vision and meaning in a land engulfed in wantonness and consumption. Fitzgerald seemed to be saying that when all of the images a people hold sacred are foisted back on them for the purposes of selling toothpaste, gasoline and soda, the world becomes meaningless and a vacant shell only suitable to be filled with more commodities and the refuse left behind after the act of consumption has taken place.
Recreation of the Valley of Ashes with Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s Billboard as described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”
Nearly a century after Fitzgerald’s time, the transformation of America by capitalists and the media into the world’s used car lot is complete. Nearly every square inch of America has become mediated for the purposes of selling something, whether it’s cars, smart phones, breakfast cereal, insurance and healthcare, public schools, ideas and even you, dear reader. You’re being sold, too. Take some time to look up what a “data broker” is and delight in the fact that personal information about your life and what you buy is a commodity as well – to be schilled to corporations thanks to the ease of aggregating terabytes of data by way of the ubiquity of digital technology in our lives. The implications of this brave, new world of consumer data mining are vast. Whereas the media of the 20th century was all about creating large, singular marketing projects that were meant to carpet bomb the cultural landscape of the time for mass effectiveness, the media of the 21st has learned to be a lot more insidious and personal. After all, what company really needs billboards anymore, when said company can interact and send perfectly targeted advertisements to prospective consumers through Facebook and other social media sites selling your personal information, where the masses commune alone-together inside the pseudo-privacy of their digital bubbles.
In this sense, pop culture has begun to eat us and itself. We’ve begun to be nostalgic for a simpler time when pop was a high-wattage diner sign gleaming on the horizon, the kooky messages and curt phrases of letterboards or a homemade advertisement slapped together by a mom-and-pop store. To us in the 21st century, these things now seem quite Romantic-with-a-capital-R. The fact is that many of these artifacts of early consumerist culture are either in a state of half-life, ruin, or they are vanishing from the cultural landscape altogether. Inspect any new Apple Computer Store and take a whiff of what’s to come. This is the future- and this as well. Seamless consumption! Today, the Romance-quotient of earlier forms of advertising and marketing blooms like a cross between a Googie architecture sunburst and a Caspar David Friedrich painting of a gutted church in the wilderness. We remember the good old days of coming together in person under the auspices of that banal yellow Waffle House sign to worship Baal covertly in plain sight while stuffing our faces with hashbrowns, pork sausage patties and eggs, and it was good (even though Waffle Houses still dot the American landscape). How metamodern of us – to be nostalgic for something that is still with us, although in a degraded form! Amen!
The reason for all of my babble about advertising, consumerism and nostalgia is an art exhibition at May Gallery by two artists from Brooklyn, New York – Alli Miller and Trey Burns – in the St. Claude Arts District of New Orleans . The exhibition is titled “Wessel Castle,” a portmanteau derived from combining the beginning of pop artist Tom Wesselmann‘s surname with the “Castle” in White Castle, the burger chain known for deliciously shitty, little square burgers with steam holes in them that have attracted rabid fans across our nation – most notably the writers of “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”
Title wall for Alli Miller and Trey Burns “Wessel Castle” exhibition at May Gallery
Installation view of “Wessel Castle” with title wall at May Gallery
Installation view of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery
Installation view of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery
Installation View of “Wessel Castle” at May Gallery.
Images of Wesselmann’s works or White Castle chains are non-existent in the exhibition, but by invoking them, Miller and Burns set up a dialectic for the show that casts a pall over the exhibition while still evoking the Romantic. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, when Wesselmann and White Castle had hit their stride as cultural zeitgeists, they stood for a confluence of cultural ease, efficiency and sensual delight that was America’s promise at the time. Within “Wessel Castle”, we, the audience, are left with the abject physical and metaphysical fallout from such short-sighted lines of thought along with a heaping dose of nostalgia for a simpler, less complicated time.
The exhibition is mostly a photographic exploration of the cultural backwaters and architectural relics that fit into the rubric of what Wesselman and White Castle represent to us today. However, Miller and Burns’ images are all presented to us on a ground of Tyvek – the relatively new industrial insulating material which the long-standing, corporate giant Dupont advertises as “Superior protection against water and air infiltration. Improved energy efficiency & air quality.”
Tyvek is actually quite a humorous and ironic choice in which to cover the walls of the exhibition. Here, Miller and Burns exploit the material due to it’s connection to New Orleans, a city still in the process of rebuilding itself after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Visit any ward in the middle of a revitalization in New Orleans, and one will surely see Tyvek being placed on new homes and buildings. Tyvek was also the material of choice for the protective suits worn by first responders and clean-up crews after the hurricane. Beyond this connection, one can also view the Tyvek of the exhibition as a sly recreation of red carpet backdrops at major entertainment events that advertise which companies have supported the event proceedings with funding. The Tyvek background of “Wessel Castle” forces the viewer to question the sincerity of the nostalgic/Romantic photographs on view.
There is another questionable presentational device in the exhibition as well. Each wall-mounted photograph in the exhibition is presented in a frame with its protective, cardboard, cornice sleeves in tact. A quirky, little touch like this has a big impact, demanding one question the intent of the artists. Are the sleeves there to offer protection to the fragile images, or are they there to mock them as freshly minted commodities? Personally, I think that they do both.
Within the images of “Wessel Castle,” Miller and Burns point us toward a couple of strange roadside attractions and a preponderance of billboards and letterboards in various states of disarray.
In “Espresso,” the viewer is asked to contemplate the kitschy glory of a coffee shop housed inside a concrete replica of an American Indian tepee.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Espresso,” photograph
“We Buy Gold” is a beautifully haunting image of a repurposed Waffle House sign hovering over a motel pool surrounded by trees. The combination of the reflective, blue water, shady trees and the deadpan audacity of the towering yellow sign advertising a pawn shop/gold exchange lure one into the image. The photograph is drowsy with cheap luxury and the sort of blue sky noir one finds in David Lynch films.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “We Buy Gold,” photograph
On one of their roadtrips, Miller and Burns were lucky enough to come across a Geico Insurance advertisement via skywriting. The photograph “Geico Geico” is the end result of this coincidence. Here, the name of the company hiccups across the sky in short puffs of smoke while a street light seems to reach up and underscore the advertisement.
In “Untitled (Road Signs),” a quartet of cacti are adorned with wooden ladders or supports for some mysterious reason. They rise in isolation from a desert landscape while vehicles and highway signs dot the horizon behind them.
In another photograph of a nearly barren landscape, “Museum Next Exit,” a shoddy, utilitarian sign advertises the near presence of culture behind a barbed wire fence.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Museum Next Exit,” photograph
“Untitled (Memorial)” commemorates a hilltop site of remembrance capped by a white cross and a propped-up wooden rainbow. The image is equally beautiful and pathetic.
“Untitled (Geometric Sign)” presents the top of a disused and repurposed highway sign peeking out into a serene sky from the bottom of the photograph. What purpose this sign has now seems to be a mystery since all that occupies it in the image are modernistic blocks of color. Maybe the sign points the way to some type of secret Bauhaus utopia off one of America’s lost highways?
The last of the quasi-yet-hyper-surreal images in “Wessel Castle” is “Untitled (Double Horizon),” which provides the visual enigma of a painted desert landscape on a shipping container located in the middle of an actual desert landscape. It’s one of the smarter and more enchanting images in the exhibition. The artifice of the painting (despite its clumsy nature) seems more real by virtue of the stupendous bluntness and incongruence of the shipping container supporting it. It’s as if one can step into the landscape a second time through the painting on the container. “Untitled (Double Horizon)” one-ups the work of Rene’ Magritte and is a sly homage to the surrealist/advertising man who could also be a spiritual father of the work in the exhibition.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Untitled (Double Horizon),” photograph
Along with the images above, one must wrestle with the achingly banal yet disconcerting images of abused, neglected or abandoned letterboard signs communicating gibberish in the midst of urban blight/sprawl or lonely stretches of the American landscape. The titles of the images like “B B OW E,” “GR EENL AWEBARBER P,” and “– P E C” telegraph the communication breakdown. The signs in these images have nothing and everything to say about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going as a society. As Romantic landscape/memento mori, these images ask us to come to terms with our collective past as the world’s most recent divinely manifested consumers, and they remind us that today’s Facebook will inevitably be tomorrow’s disabused letterboard – only this time all that will remain will be data inside a digital cloud. That is if we and the cloud do survive.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “– P E C,” photograph
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “GR EENL AWEBARBER P,” photograph
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, ” B B OW E,” photograph
“Wessel Castle” also has some sculpture, but these 3-D stabs at the subject seem less successful than the photographs. Two pedestals made from what look to be wire crates each display two photographs. The gestures here seem rather glib, arbitrary and presumptive – as if the artists thought that their audience needed sculpture to complete the experience of the exhibition and neatly fit into the rubric of 21st century, multidisciplinary artodoxy (pun intended). Miller and Burns’ “Lightbox,” a plastic bin converted into an actual lightbox displaying a photograph of a brick wall with a badly painted trompe l’oeil chest of drawers inside the lid, is more of a success than the pedestals in that it is clever; however, it still seems unnecessary within the context of the exhibition. That also applies to the coat rack from which “We Buy Gold” hangs.
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Pedestal #2 ‘Signscape’,” mixed media sculpture
Alli Miller and Trey Burns, “Lightbox,” mixed media sculpture
In summation, “Wessel Castle,” despite its small, 3-D disappointments, with its abject/pop/Romantic subject matter, is as formidable as it’s name implies in that it asks deep and timely questions about our collective values in this age of postpop hyperconsumption. We may have moved on to more ethereal, elegant, precise and intelligent ways of marketing ourselves in the 21st century, but so far, this has mostly just served as a means to continue to feed the voracious appetites we acquired in the past. Luckily, the beauty and wonder of the photographs in the exhibition make the contemplation of such things more palatable and also add another level of complexity to the exhibition. Within ‘Wessel Castle,” we see a glimpse from our society’s rear-view mirror, and the signs, objects and landscapes are unequivocally closer (and more complicated) than they seem.
** All photographs of “Wessel Castle” are courtesy of May Gallery
** For more information the May Gallery, click here.
Read all about Lafayette artist Susan David and the passion she has for her non-profit print shop/multi-media art center, Freetown Studios, in my article “As the Rooster Crows” here in Pelican Bomb, South Louisiana’s premier visual arts journal. Keep on cluckin’ my chickadees!
In honor of the upcoming retrospective of artist Eugene J. Martin‘s work at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS which runs from June 5, 2012 to December 1, 2012, we here at Louisianaesthetic thought it would be nice to share a video of Martin’s work which was completed at the dawn of the new millennium in his home studio in Lafayette, LA! Thanks to the efforts of his lovely and tenacious wife, Ms. Suzanne Fredericq and her efforts at www.eugenemartinart.com, we have this beautiful document! I hope you enjoy it!
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
On June 5, 2012, something magical will occur in the Gulfside town of Biloxi, MS. Two mystically inclined and fiercely iconoclastic bodies of work will meet and have a conversation inside a museum devoted to bringing the public closer to the mysterious heart of Southern art.
Inside the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, the work of George Ohr, “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” is enshrined in the permanent collection there and acts as a lynch pin for the revolving exhibitions that take place on the campus. The museum was designed by the starchitect, Frank Gehry who is no stranger to iconoclastic and visionary gestures either. Inside Gehry’s ingenious complex, the spirit of Ohr and his own brand of Modernism reign. The artist was a product of the 19th Century and the overarching Victorian sensibility of his time; yet, Ohr struck out in a direction all his own with his pottery, anticipating the avant garde aesthetics of Modernism that defined the art of the 20th Century. Radical in his embrace of new form, brilliant color and the aesthetics of chance, Ohr was living and working by the Modernist mantra to “make it new” well in advance of poet Ezra Pound’s dictum.
Photograph of George Ohr. Courtesy of the Estate of George Ohr
Sculptural Vessel (Marbleized Clay) by George Ohr. Courtesy of the Estate of George Ohr
Much like Ohr, artist Eugene J. Martin possessed a radically independent spirit. He was born in Washington, DC, to a life of hardship and constant upheaval in 1938. However, rather than allowing his burdens to drag him down, Martin used them to temper his soul like the finest steel and forge a personality that was at ease in the eye of the creative storm that is a true artist’s life. For instance, Martin was an African American, and he began his studies at the Corcoran School of Fine Art at the dawn of Postmodernism in the 1960’s: a time when few black artists were allowed to enter the rarefied climes of Fine Art. He also lived in poverty through certain periods of his life, often without the means to acquire materials to feed his creativity. Yet, one can find very little evidence of any of these hardships in Martin’s art. This is because he was a self-made man and an artistic maverick who reveled in his own sense of freedom and personal identity within his own life and the wider history of art.
Rather than rejecting Modernism, Martin took the lessons of the fading period and made them his own, internalizing the work of Picasso, Matisse and Miro and breathing new life into their original concerns under the aegis of “satirical abstraction,” a term of the artist’s own creation. In Martin’s Modernist endgame, both abstraction and figuration participate in joyfully tenuous dances or rigorously tectonic tableau. One side of his oeuvre is gorgeously shambolic, located aesthetically somewhere between the dance of a whirling dervish and the insouciant libertinism of bodies moving to jazz or rock ‘n’ roll. The other side of his oeuvre is the playground of Euclide and Isaac Newton: a world of strict right angles, sumptuous curves and sacred geometries. The best of Martin’s work fuses these two sides, creating a sense that what is being depicted is caught between riotous motion and serene equipoise. It is in this fusion of gestural and geometric abstraction, along with figuration that alludes to human bodies, animals and machines, that Martin’s work succeeds and progresses past its antecedents. One other striking technique Martin used to reach new artistic horizons was collage and appropriation. Yet, he never used other artist’s work. He appropriated himself by cutting-up or taking photographs of his previous works and incorporating them into new structures. It is because of this mix and a renewed interest in Modernist practices that his work seems as alive, fresh and relevant today as the day Martin created it.
Eugene J. Martin at work in his home in Lafayette, LA. Courtesy of the Estate of Eugene J. Martin
Although he matured on the East Coast, Martin made his way to Lafayette, LA with his wife, biologist Suzanne Fredericq, in 1996. It was in Lafayette, that Martin continued to expand his ouevre for the better part of a decade until is death in 2005. Martin participated in a number of significant exhibitions in his lifetime, especially in Europe, but he never really received his proper dues from the artistic establishment in his own country. Martin’s slippery place in the continuum of art history is probably to blame for the neglect, as well as his fierce independence and resistance to categorization. This is about to change, however. Next month, Martin will receive a retrospective of his life’s work from the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. The exhibition is titled “The Art of Eugene Martin: A Great Concept” and will serve as somewhat of a time machine, connecting the proto-Modernism of Ohr to the Modernist denouement of Martin. It will also serve as a necessary corrective to the American establishment’s neglect of Martin’s work.
In anticipation of the exhibition, I made a pilgrimage to Martin’s home. His widow, Ms. Fredericq, was gracious enough to give me a tour of the home and the copious amount of brilliant work that Martin left behind. It was an experience I’ll never forget. The following pictures are a record of my visit. All photographs of the Martin home and Martin’s work were taken by the author.
“The Art of Eugene Martin: A Great Concept” will take place at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art from June 5, 2012 to Decmber 1, 2012. Louisianaesthetic will be presenting a follow-up article after visiting the exhibition in the near future.
For more information, visit the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art website here.
… and many thanks to Eugene Martin’s widow, Ms. Suzanne Fredericq