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.
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!
“Post Katrina Sunset”
double channel video
*** Author”s note: To view a review of “Prospect Lafayette” on this site, click here.
“Keys to Our Heart”
single channel video
*** Author”s note: To view a review of “Prospect Lafayette” on this site, click here.
a video detail of “Death and the Children”
single channel video
*** Author”s note: To view a review of “Prospect Lafayette” on this site, click here.
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
On a bright and breezy Sunday afternoon – the day after the opening of the Prospect New Orleans Biennial to be exact – my wife and I made our first visit to T-Lot, a Prospect 2 Satellite in the St. Claude Arts District. If you don’t already know, T-Lot is a little different than most art spaces in the city. It’s actually a little different than most art spaces on the planet. That’s because T-Lot is the only space that I know of that encompasses studio spaces and 8000+ square feet of backyard in the shape of a “T” that can converted into exhibition space. This ain’t ya mama’s art gallery! It’s more like your insane cousin’s! You know: the one who’s always trying to build rocket ships out of grain silo parts in his backyard and smells like cheetos and red bull … and oooooh, this so makes the difference!
We were there to see the exhibition “Parallel Play,” the second annual installment of communal T-Lot madness in which members and a select group of their fellow New Orleans peers blanket the entire compound with art. The “front desk” was an unmanned folding table laid out on gravel in the “neck” of the T. We walked a little further into the yard, and found T-Lot members Stephen Kwok and Natalie McLaurin hanging out on a set of bleachers under an avocado tree that occasionally sent an avocado or two to dive bomb the surrounding area. Apparently, Kwok and McLaurin were gallery sitting for the day, and they took turns assisting us graciously throughout our stay there.
We were told by them to go back to the “front desk” and avail ourselves of the exhibition list/numbered map. There was quite a lot to see, and it was scattered all over. To follow the list meant criss-crossing the lot over and over again, but that didn’t matter because it was like some demented scavenger hunt for art that was pretty kooky and fun. The adjacent neighbors only added to the fun, playing accidental DJ for us while we checked out the art. A stream of funk and rap bounced into the T-Lot from their yard. Natalie McLaurin said they didn’t mind their neighbors, and their neighbors didn’t mind them. They both liked to party: T-lot’s neighbors are Mardi Gras Indians. In fact, we missed the big party/opening they had the night before. Another unfortunate thing was the fact that some of the art was not fully functional because they involved performances or video projections that weren’t possible to duplicate in the light of that day. It was made clear to us that “Parallel Play” requires a little bit of shadow play as well. We were sad to hear the news, but there was still a whole lot to enjoy.
Surprisingly, the piece that my wife and I enjoyed the most was a piece that wasn’t complete when we saw it! Stephen Kwok and Dave Greber created an alter titled “Alt” that was a ziggurat with terraced sand pits installed in a tent. The artists littered the thing with LED tea lights (all but one of them were out by the time we got there). There was supposed to be a video projection by Greber at the top of it, but that was missing. What was left behind though were “offerings:” loose change, a coffee mug, ink pens, a note book, condemns, an empty aluminum can, a hammer, a cigarette lighter and an empty cigarette pack, etc. Kwok and Greber left instructions in the tent for visitors to leave an “offering” on the alter, something that they felt they could part with. The whole set up was both pathetic and incredibly awesome at the same time. It was also quite beautiful just as it was. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time perusing the sand pits, looking for interesting “offerings” and wondering about the people who left them behind. For me, it felt like ancient history and the present had collapsed into this piece, into one moment of classical elegance and contemporary abandonment. I spent a little bit of time wondering what it looked like the night before with all the LED’s a glow and one of Greber’s colorfully schizophrenic videos burning on top of the alter. The thought of it, and it made me smile. My wife left an old, empty bottle of Nasonex for posterity.
Kwok had some other smart things on view in the two-story studio all the way at the far end of the “T.” Kwok knows that sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest impact, and with “FFF” he makes that point. It is a sculptural installation of three white pedestals topped with three different forms of cream: powdered creamer, moisturizing cream and heavy whipping cream. God only knows why this was so interesting, but it was, and my wife was shocked to see the whipping cream atop one of the pedestals tremble when she walked. What was so surprising to me was how such an austere conceptual piece made us feel like kids in kindergarten: “Kids this is cream, C-R-E-A-M! Can you say cream?” Another great piece by Kwok was “Results, ” a white long-sleeved shirt decked out in countless homemade pinback buttons with various images and symbols on them. It seemed like the entire world was buttoned to this shirt, and I thought it was an appropriate symbol for the kind of lives we lead today with not only our hearts but the world hanging on our sleeves. Lastly, Kwok presented a video called “Fixed” from his website. It is a grid of staring competitions involving Kwok, recorded over video chat. It’s proof that when we humans acquire great technology, ultimately it gets put to the silliest uses – sometimes rightly so.
Hannah Chalew presented a handful of works, all concerned with overgrowth and/or derelict spaces. A topic close to every New Orleanian’s heart. Her sculpture “Odin St. Takeover Part II” stood triumphant on its stilt legs, the paper house on top of it seeming to succumb to the elements of time and nature. With Chalew, nature always has the upper hand. She drapes an entire wall in the studio with handmade vine camouflage. A couple of exquisite drawings of derelict spaces line the walls. A beautiful collage/painting/wall sculpture titled “Intertwined” delineates the planes of two houses with Chalew’s handmade “vines” without ever giving the viewer a glimpse of the homes themselves. A lone “vine” crosses the gulf between the two invisible houses. Also on view outside is an arbor titled “Relict Landscape” which is made of actual vines planted in the ground and completed with a bench on which viewers can sit and peer out from under the arbor. Chalew is branching out – literally.
Sadly, I felt the work of Natalie McLaurin deployed in the studio space and outside didn’t compare to the work I’ve seen from her in the past. She offered two sculptures of hardened clothing made possible by dipping them in resin. These sculptures also had lights inside of them that we missed out on. They hung from trees. Inside, McLaurin offered some perfunctory drawings that suffered in comparison to Chalew’s which were near. A sculpture of a cast of legs in jeans and sneakers and topped off by a paper bag stood near Mc Laurin’s drawings. It made me yearn for one of the artist’s similar pieces with handmade bird wings instead. One piece that could have worked was a piece of black fabric with mutliple, linear cuts across it. It suffered from a poor presentation on another sheet of fabric. I think if it would have been on a hard surface like a wall, it would have read better. There was another installation of McLaurin’s concerning what McLaurin left or gave away during her move from New York City to New Orleans, involving small sketches of these items placed in plastic sheets. This piece lacked something in presentation as well, and I lost interest pretty quickly. I was a little dejected. All the poetry of the last work I saw from McLaurin was drained from this work. What was worse was that she was being such an amazing host to us! I felt like a heel and still do as I write this, but I gotta call ’em like I see ’em. So sorry, Nat.
Another disappointment was Angela Berry’s sculpture “Biology of the Everyday,” a wooden and cement DNA strand that had about as much life as a neglected coat rack, although it did look like some kind of playground device from the 50’s that could poke a child’s eye out. Other playground-looking sculptures faired a little better, but not by a whole lot. James Goedert’s mutant ladder wasn’t so visually exciting. It was simply a wooden ladder with one extremely long side that still didn’t manage to get one very far up in the air. Yet, it’s title provided a good punchline: “So Long for So Little.” Aah, conceptual sculpture jokes! Katie Lerin’s “WARP//WEFT” was a jungle gym disguised as a weaving loom, or so it looked. It was just OK.
I really dug Z Bhel’s “Wooden Army,” a mix of free-standing paintings of people on luan. There was a pothead in the army, and everybody knows potheads are good for a laugh. I imagine they must have been fun in the middle of all the people who gathered on opening night. I can imagine people bumping into them and apologizing to the sculptures.
Amanda Cassingham presented a performance in the form of a pamphlet advertizing the opportunity for the viewer to receive a cookie through the mail for a payment of $3.14 if they feel they “deserve” it. This tongue in cheek offer was just ridiculous enough to pique our interest. We snatched up a “Special Offer” pamphlet and plan on testing this capitalist/ social experiment soon.
I came to the conclusion that Jason Childers is the newest incarnation of Mr. Wizard. His sculpture “XY, ZX,YZ” is two squares made of thin lumber slats bisecting one another. One is vertically oriented while the other is horizontal. What looks like a low-rent, DIY minimalist snooze turns out to be an ingenious sculpture that is also a contraption of daVinci-like proportions. The center of the sculpture is occupied by a shaft connected to ropes which are also connected to the lumber slats that form the squares. Childers assembled the sculpture without the use of nails or glue. He simply cranked the shaft in the center, and the tension exerted on the ropes pulled the squares together to form the final sculpture. Who says art isn’t a science and science isn’t an art? It’s sure not Jason Childers. Granted, it took an explanation for me to even give this thing a second look, but I love it now!
Another artist who blew me away was Elizabeth McLellan, who presented a few large-scale drawings on paper on one of the fences in the back yard. Using charcoal, sediment and natural pigments, she conjured a world of decay and apocalypse that, despite the subject matter, was beautiful to behold. In the drawings old homes and streets succumb to epic dust clouds in a mix deft representation and sublime abstraction. Stunning!
My wife and I almost missed the last piece of the show, a prismatic and mirrored tour through an alleyway the follows the side and back of the two-story studio. The piece is attributed to WNFG and is titled “Mind the Gap.” I have a suspicion that WNFG is referring to the treachery of trying to walk down the alley which included a one to two foot drop on one side. Whatever, the case, it was a great little installation that cocooned us in color, light, sky, dirt and images of ourselves, and was the perfect end to our visit to the T-Lot.
There were other pieces of art at T-lot that were OK. There were pieces that were completely missing. I’ll leave all of these to rest.
On the whole, exploring T-Lot’s adult playground was a fantastic experience, and yes – their backyard definitely kicks your backyard’s ass – unless you have one of those giant pools with a light show and a volcano or something! Then, you win.
“Parallel Play” is on view at T-Lot, 1940 Saint Claude Ave., New Orleans, from Friday, October 14 at 6:00pm – Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 10:00pm
Video of patrons viewing artist Stephanie Patton’s video “Heal” in her solo exhibition “General Hospital” at The Front in New Orleans. You can hear Patton off camera making quips about the video to the patrons. In the artist’s full video, she squeezes lemons and makes lemonade for nearly two hours. At the end of the video, she takes two lemon halves, stuffs them with cotton batting and sews them together to make them “whole” again. This video captures the lemon “surgery.”
on view in Patton’s solo exhibition “General Hospital” at the Front, 4100 St. Claude Avenue • New Orleans, LA 70117 • Saturday & Sunday 12 to 5 pm until November 6, 2011
*** Author’s note: You can read my review of “General Hospital” here.