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/
HERB ROE, “Fille avec un Poulet,” painting
“Les Bons Temps” is the first in a series of Pinterest boards curated by myself, Reggie Rodrigue, that will be used as digital galleries for the exhibition of visual art and other cultural artifacts together. The contents of each monthly exhibition will be dependent on one particular concept. “Les bons temps” is French for “the good times,” and one can hear the phrase in everyday conversation or music in Louisiana often. Considering that Mardi Gras takes place in the middle of February, I thought it would be an appropriate concept for this month’s exhibition. It is filled to the brim with artistic and musical goodness from Louisiana and a few other places, and speaks to the “joi de vivre” of life in Louisiana during Mardi Gras and the rest of the year. To check out “Les Bons Temps,” follow the link provided below:
If you like the exhibition, please feel free to share it’s URL with friends as it is open to the public of Pinterest and meant to be shared digitally and pinned. You can also check out the other boards on my Pinterest site, including one which hosts the “Louisianaesthetic Collection.”
“Les Mardi gras, Ca Vient de Tout Partout”
oil on canvas
on view in the group exhibition at the Warehouse, 625 Garfield St., Lafayette, LA for the month of November 2011
*** Author’s note: To read a review of this exhibition, please see the the post titeled “Off the Beaten Path at the Warehouse on Garfield” here.
Camille Adrienne Banuchi
gilded oil painting (composition and precious leaf)
“Fierce Left Hook”
archival glue, ink and acrylic
Amanda Holt Robicheaux
“Courir de Mardi Gras – Sots sur les Chevaux”
oil on canvas
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
For this November’s Artwalk in Lafayette, there was an extra destination off the beaten path for art patrons. Typically, Artwalk is extremely Jefferson Street-centric. Patrons usually remain on or near the street, rarely venturing beyond the confines of Downtown. However, for the intrepid art adventurer, the Warehouse (located at 625 Garfield St. in the neighborhood of Freetown) offered a more warm and mellow art experience than any other this Artwalk night.
The Warehouse is just as it’s name implies: a small warehouse. However, this warehouse has been converted into a building housing artists’ studios and exhibition space through the wide, central hallway that runs through the middle of it. Walking into the Warehouse is quite interesting. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. It’s basically a rusty, tin shed with a gravel and dirt parking lot. It’s also located beside a set of train tracks. Yet, on the inside, proprietor and artist Herb Roe has created an inviting and warm atmosphere for the appreciation of the art that the Warehouse studio artists exhibit there. Wood floors, a good deal of wall space and ample lighting provide the ideal atmosphere for small exhibitions. The works of the four artists on view this past Artwalk, Camille Adrienne Banuchi, Chris LaBauve, Amanda Holt Robicheaux and Herb Roe, himself, all fit nicely into the space. However, their works are all radically different in style and content, as is the case in most studio exhibitions.
Camille Adrienne Banuchi offered the most romantic work on view. Her series of intimate, gilded oil paintings of swamp scenes hit the mark somewhere between 19th century landscapes, religious icons and the kind of work one could find at a hippie flea market. The mix makes for some contemplative yet dazzling and psychedelic viewing. Due to the various mottled, gilded skies, suns and moons in these works, light seems to emanate directly from them, and a shift in perspective to either side of them reveals different facets of the paintings. While I was in their spell, I felt a peculiar amalgam of serenity, playfulness and awe.
Playfulness is nothing new in terms of what Banuchi’s work usually elicits from viewers. In the past, she has created a plethora of humorous works devoted to icons. She’s created a painting of Jesus Christ taking a coffee break and smoking, titled “The Last Coffee Break.” She’s conflated Elvis Presley with Christ in a series of prints based on the Stations of the Cross. Banuchi has also created a series of icons of close friends as saints with collaged frames made from the labels of the sitters’ favorite products. In her last series, she turned her favorite products, including Slap Ya Mama seasoning, into pop icons. There’s definitely a strong Catholic sensibility running through her art. Her latest suite is no different, except that she trades in the running gags and humorous schtick for images of great solitude and communion with nature. My best guess is that she’s mellowed into a quiet and contemplative place in her life. Even though her current paintings share the same iconic status of her previous work, they are light years away in attitude and substance.
Speaking of gimmicks and schtick, artist Chris LaBauve plays the wiseguy in this group of studio artists. There’s always something compelling about his gimmicks and schtick, however. He’s the artistic equivalent of the kid in the back of every third grade class eating paste and throwing spit balls. Yet, many of his works display a level of pathos, skill and obsession that push his work well beyond the elementary. In the Warehouse exhibition, LaBauve is displaying some of his past hits, such as the large collage of singed cigarette butts that coalesces into a bird’s eye view of the artist standing on a crack in a side walk and his mash-up of a self portrait as Uncle Sam via the Garbage Pail Kids (the satirical trading cards from the 80’s that lampooned the Cabbage Patch Kids craze). This last piece displays Labauve in red, white and blue regalia with his finger up his nose and is titled “Digging for Gold.” The whole image is painted on top of collaged cigarette packs which peek out from under the paint.
The new work on display from Labauve is a continuation of a personal obsession with glue and ink that started a decade ago. LaBauve has become somewhat of a maestro with the bizarre pairing, coaxing different effects out of the materials. He manages to broach both representation and abstraction with the mix. In a large, black and white painting titled “Fierce Left Hook,” Labauve presents yet another self portrait with an exaggerated perspective. In this ominous piece, LaBauve’s over-sized head hovers at the top of the canvas over his torso and his cocked left arm – his hand balled in a fist. The man is ready for a fight, and glue is his weapon of choice. Also on display is a series of small, black and white, rectangular, glue and ink paintings. Abstract effects seem to be the name of the game in these works. They are reminiscent of all sorts of natural phenomena such as marble and waves. They also take on the appearance of mathematical fractals and elicit the urge to zoom into them in order to find other universes within them. LaBauve is displaying these untitled works on either side of his large, menacing self portrait, setting off a push/pull dichotomy between the works and viewers.
Amanda Holt Robicheaux is the individual who is painting in the ether among the four artists. In Robicheaux’s work, beautifully delicate abstractions swathe ghostly bodies that seem to float and fall across the canvas. Her figures exist somewhere between the women of Gustav Klimt with their full hips and contorted, liquid poses and the winnowing featureless and existential angst of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures. There’s something bruised and alien at work in Robicheaux’s limbless figures. However, thanks to her feminine touch, these complex figures are also immensely pretty. In this particular body of work, Robicheaux heightens the allure of her work through the use of a range of bright, floral colors. It all makes for a compelling view that is analogous to watching a delicate rain fall in the midst of a sunny, spring day. Light and darkness coexist in Robicheaux’s work, but in this instance, light seems to be carrying the day. Beside the change in color palette and emotional tone, Robicheaux’s work has also undergone a change in size and scale. In the past, the artist has primarily shown large and forceful paintings. The works she is presenting at the Warehouse, much like Camille Adrienne Banuchi’s, are intimate and inviting, despite their otherworldly qualities.
Warehouse proprietor Herb Roe is the lone realist in the group of four. Typically, realist painting over the past 100 years has either been dull, strangely lifeless, overly dramatic, cliched and/or lacking in criticality. There have been artists who have birthed exceptions to this rule, however. Edward Hopper, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Gerhard Richter, Richard Estes and Chuck Close all brought something stridently personal and revelatory to their realist works. One could say the same thing about Herb Roe, concerning his paintings devoted to the subject of the traditional Louisiana Mardi Gras as it is practiced in small, Southwestern prairie towns such as Mamou. The style of Roe’s works is strictly documentary, but what he is documenting is an entirely hermetic world that few outside these small towns ever see. Roe is originally from Ohio, and one gets the sense that the point of view of his Mardi Gras paintings is that of an outsider with an insider’s pass to the mystery, tradition, ritual and frivolity inherent in his chosen subject. The artist navigates viewers around one riotous canvas after another through the use of the wild colors of the revelers’ costumes and the idiosyncratic actions they seem to be undertaking. Drunken celebrants marching, playing music, standing on the backs of horses, chasing chickens – it’s all there to be marveled at and analyzed. These images are as realist as it gets, yet they read as hyperrealism. They somehow go beyond the ordinary and the mundane into another realm. This is what gives Roe’s Mardi Gras paintings their vitality and freshness. In a sense, I think that, in Acadiana, Roe’s Mardi Gras work gets taken for granted a bit. We’re all at least a little familiar with the subject. I think outside Louisiana, these works would definitely take on a life of their own with the assistance of an outsider’s perspective.
So, despite the lack of any coherence between the works of the artists involved, the current exhibition at the Warehouse works nonetheless due to the integrity of the art and the space itself. It’s not a mind-blowing exhibition, but it’s a solid one, filled with some romantic, satirical, ethereal and lived moments. That is success in my book, whether it is on the beaten path or off it.