Tagged: Visual Arts

Poetics, Paraphernalia and Paint: The Artworks of John Hathorn

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

“All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters…But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.”
Charles Baudelaire

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “A Note on Red,” oil on canvas, glass, oil, pigment, metal, string, 2000, collection of Lucy Leslie, photograph courtesy of the author

Near the entrance to “John Hathorn – A Retrospective” at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, there is a small, rather unassuming painting on the title wall of the exhibition. It is a vertically oriented, rectangular canvas which has been treated with a thin, umber, oil paint wash and slathered with a thick impasto of red oil paint which virtually obliterates the support surface. The red paint was probably built up with the help of a palette knife over the course of several days or weeks or months … maybe even years?  The skin of the painting is as luscious and dense as cake frosting, but looking at it feels more like looking a slab of bloody meat. An old specimen vile containing powdered, red pigment hangs from the bottom of the canvas, calling extra attention to the not-so-secret ingredient that makes this painting hit one square between the eyes. One’s pulse quickens. One’s mouth moistens. Desire takes hold, and the color red is in the driver’s seat.

Hathorn’s “A Note on Red” is a sensual powerhouse; yet there is something extremely lucid and cerebral about it as well with that preserved vile of pigment hanging there from that red dwarf of a canvas, proclaiming that emotion is as easy to produce in the human species as parading colored dust before our eyes. There is poetry in that idea, despite (or, possibly, because of) the Pavlovian inanity of it.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “Suspension in Red,” oil, tar on canvas, wood, cloth, rope and metal. 1985, collection of H. Gordon Brooks II, photograph courtesy of the author

In the heart of Hathorn’s exhibition, another painting, “Suspension in Red,” continues the artist’s exploration of the expressive power of the color. Here, the color red sets the scene for an abstract treatise on tension.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Grammar of Verbenas (For Darrel Bourque),” oil and conte’ crayon on canvas, 2012, photograph courtesy of the author

Further along in the exhibition, on the back wall of the ACA’s Main Gallery, one can view Hathorn’s “The Grammar of Verbenas (For Darrel Bourque),” a monolithic painting composed of a cataract of paint strokes, smudges and drips in midnight blue, black, burnt sienna and cadmium yellow on a white canvas. A scrawled line from a poem by Louisiana’s 2009-2010 Poet Laureate, Darrell Bourque, hems the right edge of the composition like the inscriptions one can find on the edges of Japanese and Chinese prints. The inscription reads “one burnt water flowing into another burnt water.”

Here, the abstract image is primary, yet the inscription – the addition of language – adds focus and direction to the image. Language makes the image more concrete and discernible, pinning it down while it seems to still wriggle with a mysterious life force of its own. Yet, the inscription leaves one to question what exactly “burnt water” is. The answer lies in the meaning behind Bourque’s poem, which concerns the consummation and obliteration of the dichotomous elements of creation to create new substances or new life – hence the paradox of “burnt water.” It is a metaphor for the way that oppositional forces and drives engender creation.

This fusion of opposites – the sensual and the cerebral – is the basis for all art. However, John Hathorn makes this fusion something overt. He makes the connection between the mind and the body the subject of his art by juxtaposing the sheer beauty of paint doing what it does on canvas with objects from the “real world” and fragments of literature, creating a trinity of human thought, gesture and artifact that stands in for the sum total of human aspiration and creation. In the end, he falls short of this goal, but anyone foolhardy enough to attempt such a thing would. What he does is manage to bring us closer to the goal which is valid in and of itself if one ascribes to the idea that “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “Raft,” wood, rope, stone, salt, metal, oil, cloth, paper, ink, floor to ceiling suspended installation, 2012, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Detail from John Hathorn’s “Raft,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Detail from John Hathorn’s “Raft,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Detail from John Hathorn’s “Raft,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Detail from John Hathorn’s “Raft,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Detail from John Hathorn’s “Raft,” photograph courtesy of the author

Speaking of journeys, it is somewhat easy to fantasize about taking one on Hathorn’s sublime “Raft.” The sculpture is a wooden platform covered with rugs, paintings, drawings, personal notes and other objects which hovers inches above the floor of the gallery and is suspended from the ceiling via a sturdy rope. The other end of the rope is wrapped and tied around a wooden palette topped by stone slabs and salt blocks on the other side of the gallery. The piece dominates the entrance to the exhibition.

Hathorn’s “Raft” looks like a cross between a raft, a magic carpet, a cabinet of curiosities, a studio, a DaVinci-esque science project and a construction site – all things which speak to exoticism, travel, transformation from one state to another, and/or a belief in or a hope for a better future.  It is a highly personal, artistic gesture in that Hathorn used lumber left over from the construction of the studio he shares with his wife, artist Mary Ellen Leger, to make the piece. Add to that the personal ephemera and paraphernalia from Hathorn’s own practice in the completed studio, and one has access to a slice of the artist’s life, work and process combined.

Yet, Hathorn’s aspirations for the piece go beyond the personal and move toward the universal and the Romantic. One of the inspirations for the piece is Theodore Gericault’s masterpiece “The Raft of the Medusa,” a 19th century painting depicting the aftermath of the shipwreck of a French frigate off the coast of Senegal in 1816. Another inspiration for “Raft” is William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest,” which unfolds around the central character of Prospero, a deposed duke and a magus who is trapped on a deserted island. In the play, Prospero plots to regain his title by unleashing a storm on his enemies while they are at sea which causes their ship to wreck, forcing them onto the shores of Prospero’s island where he reigns supreme.  Between these allusions and the physical manifestation of “Raft” itself, one is set adrift to peruse the individual materials that together compose the work and ponder what it means to seek and find refuge in uncertain times. In Hathorn’s case, text, image and personal effects fuse to create a secure and fertile ground upon which his life and creative spirit thrive.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Installation view of John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retropsective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

A painting on John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

An assemblage on John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

An assembalge on John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

An assemblage on John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

An assemblage suspended over John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Two assemblages suspended over John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

A waste basket filled with used paint tubes near John Hathorn’s work table display in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

A more diffuse but still compelling assembly within the exhibition is Hathorn’s work table topped with diminutive paintings and rough-hewn, little objets d’art, some of which were made as tokens of affection for his wife. The alchemical role of the artist is on display here, exposing the small but fruitful experiments and transformations of paint, objects and texts which underpin the larger works in the exhibition.  With the table display, one can gain a better perspective on the artist’s process, and it is one of my favorite parts of the exhibition. I especially love the waste basket filled with used paint tubes near the table. Rather than being a side note on waste and consumption, it’s proximity to the table gives it the air of something poetic, beautiful and grand. It is transfigured into an accidental monument to love and passion for one’s craft.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “Large Palette,” oil on wood mounted on steel rod in wood base, 1994-1996, one of two individual palette sculptures on display in “John Hathorn – Retrospective,” photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “Cardinal,” oil on canvas, steel plumb, string, wood, oil on wooden ironing board, 1996, photograph courtesy of the author

Elsewhere in the exhibition, one comes into contact with more paintings-cum-sculptures that explore the various themes inherent in Hathorn’s ouevre: the physical qualities of thickly impastoed paint, emphasis on the expressive and symbolic qualities of color, the elevation and suspension of objects, and an interrogation of the nature of painting and sculpture.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “Large Bather,” oil on canvas, wood, glass, oil, pigment, 1997, collection of Darrell and Karen Bourque, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, ‘The Grammar of Water (Seventh State),” oil on canvas, 2006, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Grammar of Water (Twelfth State),” oil on canvas, 2006, photograph courtesy of the author

There is also the running theme of water through the exhibition. Beside the aforementioned “The Grammar of Verbenas (For Darrell Bourque)” and “Raft,” with their allusions to water,  there is the presence of “Large Bather” and “The Grammar of Water (Seventh State)” and “The Grammar of Water (Twelfth State).” In “Large Bather,” Hathorn aspires to capture some of the abstract play between water and light in some of the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn’s paintings, such as “Woman Bathing” of 1654. In Hathorn’s painting, we are given the tenebrous atmosphere of Rembrandt’s background, thick, painterly gestures standing in for the rich cloth depicted behind the Rembrandt’s bathing beauty and a bottle of amber liquid on a shelf to exemplify the interplay between light and water.  With the “Grammar of Water” paintings, Hathorn simply focuses on color and gesture to achieve a painterly language to convey water’s various guises.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Baudelaire Sketches (The Silence of the Void)” oil and charcoal on canvas, cord, metal, water faucet, 2009-2010, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Desire to Paint (On Baudelaire,” oil on canvas, oil on wood, typewriter, glass, oil and string, 1998, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Benefits of the Moon (On Baudelaire)”, oil on canvas, music stand, oil on panel, stone, oil can, wood, glass, pigment, ivory, 1998-2002, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The Baudelaire Sketches (Of a Miraculous Plant)” oil and charcoal on canvas, 2009-2012, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

John Hathorn, “The First Word of a Poem (On Rilke),” oil and conte’ on canvas, 2012, photograph courtesy of the author

The allusions to water continue in Hathorn’s “Baudelaire Sketches” with the deployment of a suspended faucet in the painting “The Baudelaire Sketches (The Silence of the Void).” Here Hathorn rifts on the work of famed French poet Charles Baudelaire, inscribing lyrics from a poem by the author directly onto the canvas in a black scrawl and using the words as a generative element to create an image of absence. The faucet serves to trigger the memories that we all have of faulty faucets leaking water loudly in otherwise silent rooms and the loneliness and isolation of the sound.

Baudelaire looms large in Hathorn’s work because, according the artist himself, Baudelaire “used words as a physical reality … Like Baudelaire’s abstraction of language, I use paint’s physicality as the language of my art making” (from an artist’s statement in “John Hathorn – A Retrospective”). In a very real sense, Hathorn and the French poet are spiritual and artistic kin, sucking the marrow out of the physical engagements of life and the sensations they engender and transmuting these things into an art of felt experience, symbolic inquiry, and metaphysical significance. Hathorn views his work as a form of correspondence across the centuries between himself and Baudelaire. This, among other correspondences, creates a temporal shift in much of the work that seems retardaire, nostalgic or simply elegiac. The irony here is that Baudelaire was considered an avatar of modern literature in his own time and a prototype for the avante garde of the 20th century.

Another literary figure Hathorn communes with is the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The poet’s work generally juxtaposes stark yet lyrical physical imagery with a transcendent spirituality poised on the cusp of a pantheistic mysticism and existential angst. Though his work comes from the turn of the 19th into the 2oth century, Rilke seems to be a poet for our times as well in that the forces set into play in his own works are forces that we recognize in our own lives.  His naked and direct, yet elegant, lines appeal to our sensibility for simple, unadorned language while between the lines, one gets the sense that he is reaching out for something far more obscure, yet profoundly nourishing. One can get the same sense of simplicity and profundity from Hathorn’s work.

There are other antecedents for Hathorn’s work as well, and they come from the visual arts. However, they aren’t mentioned in the exhibition: they are the Abstract Expressionsists, namely Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning, and the group of artists that immediately superseded them, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. In their combined works lie the seeds for everything that John Hathorn undertakes and subtly yet personally transforms in his own work. He is in their debt for certain. This is no slight, however. It is the position of all artists to be in debt to someone or something. If we are worth anything, we choose to stand on the shoulders of giants.

With all of its correspondences with authors and artists from the past, Hathorn’s work may seem like a throwback to another era with it’s denial of the trademark tropes of contemporary art: the fixation on advertising, graphic design, and celebrity, the slick appeal of minimalism, the shock of graphic and taboo imagery, the chic deshabille of a pile of  trash thrown together, the divisiveness of identity art, and the transitory and shape-shifting nature of digitalia and the New Aesthetic, along with the theatrics of performance art and relational aesthetics.

All of these things seem a long way from Hathorn’s ouevre, and rightly so. For Hathorn has conceived of a world for himself that operates at a slower pace, is more contemplative, quieter, subtler and richer than the outside world, if not as complex. The conundrum is that a complex world with ever-increasing demands on time and resources often breeds glib and facile art or conversely art that is so chaotic as to leave one feeling lost in it.

Therefore, it is an invaluable treat to be in the presence of an art which allows for a slow read and a chance to look back into the vast sea of art and literature from the past – not to dredge for kitsch, mind you, but to rediscover what is valuable, timeless and essential and return it to the light of day. Hathorn reminds us that we are most human when we contemplate the connection between mind, body and spirit. This connection has sustained humanity on it’s long journey through the centuries.
As long as we continue to forge and refine this connection, we will find comfort and refuge in our creations – the glorious life-rafts of our own making.

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Installation view of “John Hathorn – A Retrospective” at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, photograph courtesy of the author

John Hathorn - A Retrospective

Installation view of “John Hathorn – A Retrospective” at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, photograph courtesy of the author

“John Hathorn – A Retrospective” is on view at the Acadiana Center for the Arts until April 13, 2013.

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Poet Clare L. Martin’s Ekphrastic Response to a Scuplture by Luba Zygarewicz

LUBA ZYGAREWICZ Petrified Time 12 Years of My Life Folded and Neatly Stacked

LUBA ZYGAREWICZ, “Petrified Time: 12 Years of My Life, Folded and Neatly Stacked,” sculpture/stacked dryer lint, tags and rope

Last month I hosted a meeting of the Acadiana Wordlab thanks to the graciousness of the lab’s founder Jonathan Penton who also publishes the literary journal “Unlikely Stories.” During the lab, I exposed the attendants to a wide variety of my favorite contemporary works by artists from Louisiana and discussed the merits and relevance of them and their works.

It was great pleasure, and I personally got a lot out of the lab due to the quality and variety of ekphrastic responses I received from the attendants. If you’re wondering what an ekphrastic response is, you’re not alone. I had no idea what one was until I hosted the lab.  Once I found out what one is, I felt a little stupid. It’s what I do here all the time – literary responses to and commentary on art. Unfortunately, I had never come across this phrase in any of my studies. Considering, I’ve been doing this for years now, I felt like there was a little egg sliding off my face after I was told what the phrase meant. The moment was certainly humbling, but not beyond the scope of my life as a critic. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my experience is that you can know most of a topic of interest, but you can never know it all, which is why I love hearing other peoples’ responses to art and the world around them.

My current and favorite ekphrastic response is a poem from Clare L. Martin. An Acadiana poet of growing renown in South Louisiana and beyond, Martin recently published a ravishing book of her work titled “Eating the Heart First.” She also writes a blog about her work and life titled “Orphans of Dark and Rain.” Martins’s work generally is invested in digging deep into the darkened corners of her life. Through poetic excavation, she brilliantly manages to uncover great sensuality, beauty and enlightenment in the shadows and emotional wreckage of her life.

When I spoke about Zygarewicz’s sculptural tower of packed and tagged dryer lint which she saved from her own family’s clothes dryer for 12 years, something connected with Martin on a spiritual, psychological and temporal level, and “Of Lint” is the result of  that connection. I hope you enjoy this pairing of art and word as much I do!

OF LINT
     after LUBA ZYGAREWICZ, “Petrified Time: 12 Years of My Life, Folded and Neatly Stacked,” sculpture/stacked dryer lint, tags and rope

The blood of our days, sweat
and tears that flowed between us
all washed clean.

But the mud of wrath
never comes out
even though my knuckles
are raw from scrubbing.

I have formed this narrative
into an ominous tower.
Kneaded the soft pulp
into small bodies
piled upon small bodies.

My own body hardens
with an emotion
I cannot name.

My children grew and went away.
I do not know where to find them.
This strange, looming thing
marks their existence,
and by chance, my own.

I could burn it. The smoke of it
rises into leafless trees. Or bury it,
until that which still breathes
suffocates.

Who are we if we forget
where we have been?
Who are we if we forget
the true living we have done?

This artifice is evidence
of something cherished, and not—
Evidence of something felt,
something keenly known.

– Clare L. Martin

LINKS:

Clare L. Martin’s blog: Orphans of Dark and Rain

Acadiana Wordlab’s site on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/acadiana.wordlab?ref=ts&fref=ts

Unlikely Stories’ website: http://www.unlikelystories.org/

“Les Bons Temps”: A New Digital Exhibition on Pinterest

HERB ROE Fille avec un Poulet

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:

http://pinterest.com/rmrodrigue/les-bons-temps-exhibition-1-february-2013/

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.”

The August 2012 Lafayette, LA Artwalk Mise en Scene

 

The Acadiana Center for the Arts Senior Curator Brian Guidry and His Curatorial Assistant Carolyn Scalfano Faulk setting up for the exhibition “Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body”

The Acadiana Center for the Arts Lobby with a sculpture installation by participating “Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” artist Lisa Osborn

A view of the Acadiana Center for the Arts from Jefferson St. at the onset of Artwalk

Meditation on the Streets: Elaine Botts letting “the world hurry by” on Jefferson St.

An Artwalk crowd on Jefferson St.

Artwalk in full swing at the Acadiana Center for the Arts entrance

“Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” participating artist Lisa Osborn flexing her artist muscles before Acadiana Center for the Arts Senior Curator Brian Guidry, Lafayette artist and Creative Economy Summit Founder Emee Morgan and a friend

“Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” participating artist Jonathan “JJ” Wilson

“Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” participating artists  Natalie McLaurin, Ben Fox-McCord, Michael Pajon, along with Pajon’s friend and artist Shawne Major

Love Birds: Artist Shawne Major and poet/activist Jonathan Penton

Artist and Creative Economy Summit Founder Emee Morgan talking shop with “Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” participating artist Chyrl Savoy

Acadiana Center for the Arts patrons in the Main Gallery

A view of “Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” from the 2nd story bay window of the Acadiana Center for the Arts

A view of “Reconfigure: Transformations of the Body” from the 2nd story bay window of the Acadiana Center for the Arts

The title wall of the “Doodle Virus” exhibition at the Acadiana Center for the Arts

Installation of the “Doodle Virus” exhibition at the Acadiana Center for the Arts

Acadiana Center for the Arts patrons enjoying and buying the 250+ 4″ x 6″ works for sale in the “Doodle Virus” exhibition. All proceeds go to the Visual Arts Curatorial Department of the Acadian Center for the Arts.

Artist Ernie Fournet talking to a patron in the midst of his exhibition “It’s Not Easy Being a Cop”

I hope you enjoyed this visual tour through Lafayette’s art world … and dear reader, you can look forward to individual reviews on many of the exhibitions of the night in the near future!

 

Astral Projector: Mallory Page at the Lounge Gallery

Mallory Page

Astral I

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Astral II

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Astral III

mixed media on wood

48″ x 72″

Mallory Page

Calm Conscious

mixed media on wood

48″ x 60″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly II

mixed media on canvas, framed

24″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly III

mixed media on canvas, framed

23″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly IV

mixed media on canvas, framed

24″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Clarity of Spirit

mixed media on wood

48″ x 60″

Mallory Page

Half and Half

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Head in the Clouds

mixed media on canvas, framed

30″ x 40″

Mallory Page

Moon Movement

mixed media on canvas, framed

30″ x 40″

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

Pure, abstract expressionism is a rare and elusive breed in South Louisiana’s contemporary art scene. In fact, I could count the number of contemporary abstract expressionists I know practicing in the state on two hands.

Personally, I believe that something about the style inherently flies against the face of the overarching Catholic tastes of the populace: South Louisianians crave iconography.   We generally like to recognize or at least be able to relate to what we see.  This response aligns itself with our culture, which operates as a bulwark against the sometimes treacherous, violent or seemingly chaotic forces of nature that surround us (ie, swamps, hurricanes, and floods.)

The truth is that abstract expressionism is a little too amorphous, philosophical, bipolar and close to nature for most palettes here. It is amorphous because it doesn’t claim to represent anything beyond personal expression. It’s philosophical because it investigates and exposes ideas of existence, knowledge and conduct in a language, albeit visual. Abstract Expressionism is bipolar because it asserts the primacy of surface over pictorial depth while it essentially aims to show the deepest and most primal structures of the human mind (Platonic ideals and relationships) in a thin skein of paint. It operates in paradox. Lastly, it is close to nature because like everything of nature, it is what it is. It is most adamantly not a facsimile of something else as in representational or figurative art. This is the ultimate power of Abstract Expressionism. It may allude to other things, but it never fully descends into trying to reconstruct them visually. It is a pure art of being and potential. This is due to the influence of Surrealism with its emphasis on spontaneous and automatic creation stemming from subconscious drives.

Lafayette/New Orleans artist Mallory Page is a prime example of a contemporary Louisiana artist trying to breathe new life into the aging aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism. Her work operates between the two separate schools of the style: Color Field Painting and Gestural Abstraction.  Color Field Painting descends from the line of Modernist experimentation with color that started with the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists through the Fauves to the work of Joseph Albers and Hans Hoffmann. It is concerned with presenting a unified and cohesive field of flat color – an image of monolithic, yet sensual expression. Gestural abstraction descends from the emphasis on line, expressive distortion and psychological import in the work of Van Gogh and the Northern European Expressionists, through the work of  Picasso to the work of the Surrealists. It is concerned with presenting the artwork as an arena of action, physical expression and existential struggle.

In Page’s work we find a fusion of Color Field Painting and Gestural Abstraction. Free-form swaths and drips of stained color meld with expressive scrawls of pencil, ink and pastel to form a visual language that acts as a summation of and a re-entry into the history Abstract Expressionism. Her work takes off where such abstractionists as Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly left the style.  In Page’s work, one can find a meeting point between tranquility and angst. In most of her works, the tranquility of Frankenthaler dominates. Yet, it is Page’s  minimal use of the erratic scrawl of Twombly that brings these works to life and activates them, making them more than limpid pools of dreamy color.

Page’s current body of work at the Lounge Gallery in Downtown Lafayette makes excellent use of various shades of the color blue with all of its associations with the sky, clouds, water, space, twilight, spirituality, majesty, inner-vision, dreams, tranquility, and melancholy.  Most of the work in the exhibition takes its turn showing a different face of the color blue.  In a work such as Cirrusly IV, Page imbues her canvas with the feeling of a brightly lit day with scattered clouds through her use of cerulean while Moon Movement elicits a much more nocturnal and somnambulant sensibility with its midnight blues.  Page’s Astral Series takes things even further, giving the viewer a sense fathomless voids haunting undefined space where blue descends into black.  One of the most intriguing paintings on view is Head in the Clouds. Typically the phrase is associated with a state of light and dreamy distraction, and there are certainly parts of this painting that correspond in kind. However, Page has allowed storm clouds to gather in this work as well in the form of two fields of blue-black which leak down the canvas. An incongruous scrawl in vermilion in the lower-right hand corner of the painting acts as a counterpoint to it all.

Page’s exhibition is a feast for the eyes, and it exudes a great deal of taste. This is also my only caveat. When artists choose to dive into a historical style and reintroduce the style to contemporary discourse, the hazard of not pushing the style far enough always looms on the horizon. All too often, the style of the past often becomes today’s decoration. Page’s work comes close to this edge.  However, if one cares to look closely, there is enough intelligence, innovation and fine-tuned sensibility at work here to keep the work from falling over the edge.  From this precipice, Page reaches across a gulf of time and cultural history that encompasses the past 70 years, wresting a moment of American exceptionalism into our present hour of questioning and despair. Despite the the fact that American culture was reaching an apotheosis at the time that the Abstract Expressionists were creating the art that would put the nation on the world’s cultural map, they were dealing with a tremendous amount of existential baggage following the two World Wars that scarred the first half of the 20th century.  Their inner-turmoil and anxiety mirrors ours. Perhaps this is why many artists across America and other artists beyond have returned to Abstract Expressionism in the past decade to pick-up where the elder statesmen of the movement left off.

If Page and her cohort are inclined to astral projecting at all, I hope they’re willing to continue to take us with them into a future of promise and progress, rather than just a tour of recurring angst and by-gone glory.

The exhibition “Astral” is on view in the Lounge Gallery, 402. S. Buchanan St., Lafayette, LA 70501 until May 31, 2012. One can view the exhibition during May’s Artwalk and by appointment. Contact galerist Jeffery McCollough at (917) 282-1880 for a private viewing.

Promises, Promises!

Detail of Bullwinkle and Hammerhead (mural, ink and acrylic) by Johnathan “JJ” Wilson at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Detail of Bullwinkle and Hammerhead (mural, ink and acrylic) by Johnathan “JJ” Wilson at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Detail of Bullwinkle and Hammerhead (mural, ink and acrylic,2012) by Johnathan “JJ” Wilson at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, Adoration, assemblage, 2011, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, Adventure, assemblage, 2011, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, Connected, assemblage with live performance, 2012, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, Golden Girl, assemblage with live performance, 2012, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, sRGB 1EC61966-2.1, assemblage, 2011, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, The Commonwealth, assemblage with live performance, 2012, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

Patrick Segura, www, assemblage, 2011, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, LA

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

By all indications, the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette is doing its job well (despite its quirks). Either that, or we in the Lafayette art scene are experiencing a great generational fluke in the guise of a bumper crop of amazingly gifted and promising young artists.  Leading the pack are two recent graduates from ULL who are currently exhibiting some of the most forceful, intelligent, and innovative work that I’ve seen in this city in years at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

Johnathan “JJ” Wilson is originally from Baton Rouge. After earning his BFA from ULL, he began to embed himself in the scene Downtown, and within a few months, he was curating the socially-minded exhibition Revolution No. 63 with co-curator Lillian Aguinaga. The exhibition highlighted the ever-expanding bike culture of Lafayette, along with its street culture. Their prescience in holding the exhibition in the newly opened, local apparel/print shop Parish Ink didn’t go unnoticed, either. Revolution No. 63 was the perfect polygamous marriage between art, social activism and commerce.

Wilson has moved on from Revolution No.63, as his current work at the ACA attests, but he certainly has not left the street. Wilson has installed a monumental mural in the Mallia Galleria atop the ACA’s lobby that rocks, hums, vibrates and pulses with youthful excess and bravado, while remaining wise and skillful. In Bullwinkle and Hammerhead, comic book precision and urgent graffiti meet Hindu mythology, H.P. Lovecraft, punk rock, abstract expressionism, death, violence and Wilson’s own childhood. The mural is a gorgeously baroque labyrinth of sharply drawn, undulating Gods wielding weapons and musical instruments among phrases such as “Die! Die!,” I am becoming death,” “liquid courage,” and “XXX.” Red and yellow acrylics burst forth from the images and spill down the wall. Wilson managed to create a mural that is both a beautiful dream and a psychotic nightmare drawn from the pieces of his life.  For instance, Wilson admitted that the title of the piece comes from the nicknames his grandfather used to address Wilson and his cousin when they were children.  Altogether, the mural exudes a sense of primal rebellion tempered by a transcendental awareness of the absurdity of rebellion itself in the face of time and its repetitive cycles.

Directly under Wilson’s mural in the ACA’a Coca-Cola Studio is the exhibition Now Streaming, showcasing the assemblages and hybrid performance sculptures of Patrick Segura.   As with Wilson, Segura hit the ground running after his graduation from ULL last year with his first post-grad exhibition at the now-defunct Gallery at the Grant (He showed his work there with Thomas Deaton, another extremely promising recent graduate of ULL who is currently in the ACA exhibition “Lost and Found: Louisiana’s Landscape Revisited) and an inclusion in the contemporary sculpture exhibition Red-headed Stepchild at the Homespace Gallery in NOLA’s St. Claude Arts District.   Segura specializes in sculptures that bridge the gap between the personal and the private, by conflating the subject of contemporary technology with craft, domesticity and the familial. Various, colorful yarns, fabrics, sequins, a velvet curtain, terrycloth towels, a boy scout uniform and even a bridal gown collide with keyboards, computer screens, sockets, wires and electrical cords in Segura’s beautifully challenging assemblages.

For Now Streaming, the artist has upped the ante in his work by incorporating live performance into three of his ever-evolving assemblages. For the past two Artwalk evenings, volunteers have crawled into three of Segura’s sculptures to take cell phone pictures of the audience appreciating the works (the pictures then were uploaded to the internet) or play the ubiquitous musical note that accompanies computer updates on a keyboard while being swallowed by a continuously updating Facebook page.  The energy of the exhibition can make one giddy, and the feminine wiles of each piece lulls one into a realm of warm, motherly bliss. Yet, there is something ominous and sublime at play in the work as well. Allusions to the body are stripped of individual personality and subsumed by all the domestic digitalia. It is work that speaks of surveillance, capitulation, anonymity and virtual obliteration as well as how technology is shaping humanity in its image. It is as if the duplicitous CEO/oligarch/matriarch “Mom” from the television series Futurama decided to try her hand at sculpture. Segura’s vision comes on warm, but is ultimately chilling when one realizes the implications of the work.

Together, Wilson and Segura have played a huge part in making the past two months of exhibitions at the ACA profoundly exciting and rewarding. Unfortunately, their work won’t be up for much longer. Their works are coming down this week. If you haven’t seen their works in person, I would suggest taking a visit to the Acadiana Center for the Arts as soon as possible. Five to ten years from now, you’ll thank me for this advice when you’ll be able to say ” I knew them when they were fresh out of college!”  These two, along with Thomas Deaton, are on the verge of great things.  I promise!

All That’s Fit to Print: “Making Impressions” at Gallery 912

Installation view of “Making Impressions” at Gallery 912

by Reggie Micheal Rodrigue

In a world filled with all sorts of cutting edge art – digital/internet art, film, installations and performance art, printmaking sometimes seems like quite an anachronistic medium in the 21st century. After all, most printmaking today still depends on techniques developed centuries ago. Woodcut, the process of carving a piece of wood and printing from it, developed as a technique in 5th century China and spread to Europe in the 1400’s. Intaglio processes which involve engraving or etching into metal to create a surface to be inked and printed on developed between the 1400’s and the 1600’s. The process of printing from a stone and harnessing the repulsion that exists between oil-based media and water to create an image is known as lithography.  This technique has existed since the 1700’s. Since then, other techniques such as monotypes, silkscreening (Andy Warhol‘s preferred technique), and various digital techniques have come along as well. However, printmaking still remains grounded in time-honored traditions, for the most part.

This doesn’t preclude innovation though, especially in terms of style and subject matter. The quality of expression inherent to the printmaking process and the obsession to adhere ink to paper some feel in their bones have both kept the artworld replete with a steady stream of new printmakers who carry on the traditional processes while still speaking to us about the world we live in now. One could argue that in the digital age, where most printed material has been consigned to the dust-bin of history, the value of prints could increase due to their preciousness, rarity and hand-crafted nature.

This thought was high in my mind on Thursday, Decemeber 1. That evening, the opening reception for the group exhibition “Making Impressions” took place at artist Roger Laurent’s Gallery 912 in Lafayette’s Oil Center. The exhibition focuses primarily on recent print work from local artists Bonnie Camos, Susan David, Justyna Frederick, Erin Jagneaux, Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng, Catherine Siracusa and Roger Laurent himself.

The fall weather was cool and crisp – the kind of atmospherics that make one both nostalgic and keenly aware of the present at the same time.  I walked up to the entrance of the gallery and was immediately set at ease by the warmth of the scene taking place on the other side of the storefront windows.  In the middle of a gallery packed full of works hung in a salon style, the exhibition itself was taking place on cranberry red, movable walls which made the white, cream and gray paper of the prints pop. The artists and their patrons moved between the walls, chit-chatting, drinking wine and appreciating the art, the scenery and themselves.  It was a convivial atmosphere –  so much so that it took me about twenty minutes to get inside the gallery due to a number of conversations sparked on the sidewalk, including three of the artists exhibiting there.

The exhibition itself runs the gambit in styles and processes, and there is pretty much something for every taste from prints that are sunny and cheerful to some that are downright morbid. The work itself may not be cutting edge or revolutionary, but the real draw of this exhibition is quality and craftsmanship.

Artist Bonnie Camos presents a handful of woodcuts based on floral motifs.  They are cool and crisp, displaying an even amount of white paper and black ink. The artist also manages to coax quite a bit of movement out of her still lives through her handling of the woodcut medium. The flowers seem to react to the woodcut lines surrounding them, bending and flowing in various directions according to the logic of each individual image.  They work on this level, but when viewing them, I was still yearning for a bit more.  When I view art, one thing that tells me that what I’m looking at is exceptional is when I can see the idiosyncrasies of the artist coming to the fore in the work.  With these images, despite their graphic punch, I felt like they could have been made by just about anyone with a high degree of technical ability.

Printmaker and painter Susan David offers some of the most chilling work on view in “Making Impressions.” David has always had a penchant for the darker corners of life.  Recently a collaboration with playwright Dayana Stetco sent her directly into one of these corners. The play they were both working on involved allusions to insects. David became obsessed with all things that creep and crawl on six legs and, she even began collecting them despite a serious repulsion to them.  David told me at the opening that every time she picked up a fly for her collection, her gag reflex would kick in. Now, that is commitment to one’s art!  From her interaction with Stetco and her bug collection, David came up with a suite of woodcut images (some involve layers of images) that explore a range of topics from comparisons of insect exoskeletons and human skeletons to the transmission of the bubonic plague.  Despite the dark nature of the work, David’s gothic woodcuts are beautiful, haunting and truly deserving of a close look.

Justyna Frederick is somewhat the odd duck in the group, presenting a handful of paintings and sculpture in the exhibition.  Fredericks’ paintings exist somewhere between slightly surreal abstractions and Impressionist landscapes with a Louisiana flare.  Her landscapes certainly display a bit of quirk (one of them is painted on top of a plaque shaped like a fish) and gestural/graphic bravado; however, they don’t fit neatly within the context of the exhibition and somehow skirt dangerously close to folk art and craft.   The painting with the fish would work a whole lot better without the wooden frame it is in or if the painting continued to be addressed on the frame itself.

Erin Jagneaux is the other dark horse in the exhibition beside Susan David.  Jagneaux offers a range of moody woodcuts, etchings and silkscreens that exemplify the gritty urban aesthetic of places like Brooklyn, NY. Jagneaux focuses on arresting figures that seem both lost and totally at home in their environments, whether they are inside cramped apartment spaces or surrounded by the decay of the city at large. In many ways, her works are windows into the soul of a young generation coming to grips with the broken world which they have inherited. Jagneaux’s works aim at finding beauty in unlikely places and candid moments. In this sense, they exude a photographic quality that is rare in printmaking. Through her pieces, the artist also shows that she is in command of her craft.

The most quirky artist in the lot would have to be Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng.  One gets the sense that there are some esoteric and hermetic things going on in her work from allusions to the tree of life, alchemical processes, Kabbalistic wisdom, and theosophically laden abstraction. From one work to the next, Tisdale-Kwarteng transforms like a chameleon.  Out of all of these artists, she seems to have access to both the light and the darkness of life. In one gloomy intaglio etching, she conjures a miasma of preternatural life that could challenge the likes of Hieronymous Bosch. Yet, in another work made with encaustic on paper, she works in a vain of playful, quasi-abstraction that echoes the work of 20th century artists such as Paul Klee. In this work, the darkness is held at bay by an exuberant use of color and whimsy.

Catherine Siracusa offers the smallest body of work in the exhibition.  It’s also the most demure and silent.  Her encaustic prints with oil painting are almost bookmark size.  Yet they refer to nearly barren landscapes where lonely trees are isolated against somber horizons.  The works are quite autumnal in feeling; however, they lack a certain amount of impact.  In truth, they remind me of the kinds of prints one could find in the decor section of certain department stores – the sort of thing that goes well with one’s couch.

Roger Laurent’s work was one of the highlights of the exhibition for me.  Considering I had never seen his work before, it was also a revelation.  Laurent manages to pack quite a bit of excitement and action into his small, abstract spaces.  His works here seem caught between the primitive and the contemporary – certainly not new terrain in art.  However, Laurent makes this platonic area his own, and his prints are all the better for it.  One piece in particular caught my eye.  This diminutive etching with watercolor  breaks open space while maintaining the integrity of the “objects” (some of which seem like modernist chairs, steel I-beams and concrete structures) being rendered by the artist.  There’s a whiff of Philip Guston’s late work in this piece that gives it both heft and humor.  Ultimately, it is highly enigmatic, which is why I keep returning to it in my mind.  Due to this fact, I would dare say that it’s the best piece in the show.

So, “Making Impressions” isn’t the most even or revolutionary exhibition out there.  However, it does have quite a few gems as far as work goes, and it displays a wide range of printmaking techniques that should fascinate any novice or master.   On the whole, I feel a number of the artists and their works definitely made an impression on me.  Much like ink pressed onto paper, some of the pieces in “Making Impressions” have been pressed to my memory and will be living on there for the rest of my life, adding even more richness and depth to it.  Such is the true substance and nature of art.

Bonnie Camos

Bonnie Camos

(from left to right)

“Heliopsis Scabra Patula,” woodcut; “Tulipa Praestaris Fuselier,” woodcut

Susan David

“I.N.S.E.C.T. – Institute for the National Supression of Emotion through Combined Technologies”

layered woodcut

Susan David

(clockwise from left)

“Bed Bug on Tan Arches,” woodcut; “Butterfly on Cream Arches,” woodcut; “In Breed 2,” brown ink on Chinese paper; “Scarab/Beetle on Tan Arches,” woodcut; “Bee on Cream Arches,” woodcut

Justyna Frederick

“Women in Ricefield”

acrylic on board

Justyna Frederick

“Fish in Landscape”

acrylic on board

Erin Jagneaux

“Take a Left at the Chemical Plant”

woodcut

Erin Jagneaux

“Knees, Flowers, Cowboy Boots”

etching

Erin Jagneaux

“Adolescent Amazon”

silkscreen

Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng

“Alpha and Omega”

etching

Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng

“Poppy Tree”

encaustic on paper

Catherine Siracusa

“3 Trees Landscape”

encaustic print with oil painting

Roger Laurent

“Flora Series”

intaglio etching

Roger Laurent

“Construction”

intaglio etching and watercolor

The group exhibition “Making Impressions” is on view for the month of December at Gallery 912, 912 Coolidge Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70503