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Nine Lives

No Dead Artists exhibition celebrates nearly a decade among the living.

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I don't watch much TV," says Jonathan Ferrara, owner of a gallery of the same name, "but sometimes I watch a little just before I go to bed. The other night I was watching TV and this Jefferson Parish official named Maestri tells CNN, which goes all over the world, how a hurricane's going to wipe out the whole city! Like, we're all doomed! Now, how can I go to sleep after that?"

Ferrara interjects this apocalyptic footnote while discussing this year's No Dead Artists show. And if you're wondering what it has to do with his gallery's ninth annual expo of emerging artists, Ferrara says he's pleased No Dead Artists has become so established -- but with a caveat. "Now that everything's finally great in my life, this guy comes along and says it's all gonna get washed away!" says Ferrara, who recently acquired the R Bar in Faubourg Marigny.

Ah well, "life is short; art is long" as Hippocrates used to say. And if it's a truism that "life is change," Ferrara opines that No Dead Artists "is always the same, and always different," by which he may mean that it's always chaotic, but interesting new art somehow seems to surface. This year features some changes introduced by jurors Raine Bedsole, Jacqueline Bishop and Sandy Chism. Instead of the usual one or two pieces by as many as 50 artists, there are now several pieces by half that number (out of a total of more than 200 entries), providing for a somewhat more focused viewing experience. Also new is the participation of numerous entrants from all over the state.

Here as elsewhere, painting is back with a vengeance, often by hitherto underexposed female artists. Some are spooky, perhaps even a bit histrionic, as we see in Unbound, by someone who signs her name simply Violet. It's a high-key portrait of a woman whose wide open eyes and half-open mouth suggest a flash-frozen exclamation like a still from a Hitchcock film. It's an approach seen also in another, more pensive, view of the same woman in Dear Gerhard, which may refer to German maestro Gerhard Richter, who used pop, expressionist and photographic motifs in his often high-key canvases. No less emotionally wrought is Dawn Black's Halloween, a portrait of a woman in a kimono. Well, it looks like a woman, but with her big bones and weird, theatrical expression, she might also be a drag queen. (Hmmm -- a drag queen as a geisha girl? Now, that really does sound like a Halloween scenario!)

Also expressionistic is Bryony Rose Bensly's Viva, a portrait of a very large, middle-age woman, nude from the waste up. Bathed in ambient light that creates interesting contrasts between her reddish hair and bluish veins against masses of white flesh, the woman reflects some of the human paradoxes that Lucien Freud's portraits personify so well. The boundary between painting and sculpture is blurred in C. Zelinka's Atmosphere/Dragonflies, an ethereally painted fantasia that employs a gothic metal frame; and in Melissa Turner's equally ethereal Family Portrait and Landscape, works in which her subjects are suggested in etched and oxidized copper panels.

If all of this sounds rather genteel by No Dead Artists standards, J.A. Young's Sugar and Spikes (And Everything Nice, That's What Girls Are Made Of) is a bracing change of pace. A kind of steel cot studded with nails and featuring a pillow made of hair, this exotic mixed-media sculpture provides a refreshingly gothic flashback to some of NDA's wilder moments. As does Bathe, by Chicory Miles, a miniature old-time tub in which four similarly impassive hairless heads stand on poles rising from an alchemical mobius chain of sorts, like so many medieval homunculi. Gothic interest continues in Edouard Crago's Ten Commandments/Charlton Heston, a little ceramic and mixed-media case of bullets, a theme echoed in Thor Carlson's much larger Escape Pod, like a metal ballistic missile gracefully carved by artful Ashanti tribesmen. But not all of the sculpture was metal or heavy. M. Bibi Wolke-Bronswijk's Steps is an assemblage of shoes, sole side forward, recalling the early Louise Nevelson. And Gloria Houng's more conceptual pieces involving farm animals, fences and lost friends or relatives are intriguingly tricky to decipher.

Photography, while much scarcer this year, ran the gamut from Skip Bolen's striking stage portrait of Casssandra Wilson to Heather Weathers' Multi Task, a self-portrait with multiple arms holding multiple appliances and multiple dollar bills -- perhaps a commentary on the storied female capacity for simultaneous multiple pursuits, or maybe just a commentary on the schizophrenia of the times. And that's the thing about No Dead Artists -- as an unvarnished, random sample of what's out there, it's a grab bag, and while it may be raw in spots, it's always a sign of the times.

1. Heather Weathers, Multi Task, photography
  • 1. Heather Weathers, Multi Task, photography
2. Skip Bolen, Cassandra Wilson, photography
  • 2. Skip Bolen, Cassandra Wilson, photography
3. Melissa Turner, Landscape, mixed media
  • 3. Melissa Turner, Landscape, mixed media
4. Chicory Miles, Bathe, sculpture
  • 4. Chicory Miles, Bathe, sculpture
5. C. Zelinka, Atmosphere/Dragonflies, mixed - media
  • 5. C. Zelinka, Atmosphere/Dragonflies, mixed media
6. M. Bibi Wolke-Bronswijk, Steps, mixed-media - sculpture
  • 6. M. Bibi Wolke-Bronswijk, Steps, mixed-media sculpture
7. J.A. Young, Sugar and Spikes (And Everything Nice, - That's What Girls Are Made Of), mixed-media - sculpture
  • 7. J.A. Young, Sugar and Spikes (And Everything Nice, That's What Girls Are Made Of), mixed-media sculpture
8. Violet, Unbound, oil on canvas
  • 8. Violet, Unbound, oil on canvas
9. Dawn Black, Halloween, oil on wood
  • 9. Dawn Black, Halloween, oil on wood

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