Adrian Deckbar's new Water's Edge series of acrylic and pastel paintings at Gallery Bienvenu is about water in general and the Honey Island Swamp in particular. We know water is tricky stuff, sustaining life most of the time but furiously threatening when sufficiently stirred. The sunny, picturesque facades of her swamp scenes conceal the implacable cycle of creative destruction that lies just beneath the surface. At first, they seem to be as much about the light that dances over the shimmering forests, duckweed and moss of these amphibious landscapes. In the title piece, Water's Edge (pictured), the glow is as mystical as a Maxfield Parish landscape, but in others, the tall cypresses, dense thickets and gnarly roots exude an earthier energy associated with things ancient, or even chthonic. Because she has long valued craft and decorousness in every aspect of her paintings, they could suggest a peaceable kingdom where all creatures exist in static harmony. Louisianians know better. Nature is a delicate balance of beauty and danger, and Deckbar, a New Orleans native, subtly hits at that possibility in work that is contemplative on the surface even as it is fraught with obliquely implicit intrigue.
Thor Carlson, a local sculptor originally from Minnesota, is fascinated by nature as expressed in "the heartbreak of the American farm, and the alluring mystery of the sea." But mostly his stuff suggests apocryphal 19th century relics — industrial designs that never found a following. His craftsmanship is as precise as his sculpture is enigmatic. Deep Silence suggests a miniature iron submarine rather like a Lilliputian version of the Confederate submarine that once stood outside the Presbytere at Jackson Square. Others feature mysterious fittings, chains, pulleys, smokestacks and tapered beams made from exotic woods that seem to curl back upon themselves like giant question marks. Not quite steampunk, they suggest a lost Galapagos of invention, a vein of industrial design where form followed folly, not function. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Adrian Deckbar: Water's Edge
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; www.gallerybienvenu.com
Thor Carlson: Isolation
Through March 4
d.o.c.s Gallery, 709 Camp St., 524-3936, www.docsgallery.com