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To Hell and Back

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"I was born in Hell; I grew up in Hell ... I drew it because someone will pay in Hell for what happened to me. The angels were watching over us, my sister and me. That is true because that is the only way we could have made it ... ."

The words are Sarah Albritton's and if her recollections are a far cry from the nostalgia that tints so many reminiscences of childhood, they at least provide a foil for her paintings. Born upstate in Arcadia, La., in 1936, Albritton grew up in and around Ruston, where she resides to this day. As a child she was often sent to stay with country relations, where she learned farming and cooking, yet often felt unloved and undernourished. As an adult she has been a cook and restaurateur, as well as a painter and storyteller, and her brightly colored acrylics at Stella Jones evoke her childhood world in rustic visionary compositions that suggest a latter-day Clementine Hunter with an edge. If Hunter's "memory paintings" depicted the quaint charm of rural life in the old days, Albritton's images quaintly depict a north Louisiana countryside riddled with poverty and transgression.

Dirty Old Men is landscape with homes, stores, roads and country folk going about their business or messing in the business of others. It looks quaint, but there's a tension even in the seemingly carefree little girls playing by a pond, which closer inspection reveals to be runoff from the sewage treatment plant next to the shack where they live. The shack and pond were taken directly from Albritton's childhood, as was the truck with a "Dirty Old Men" sign on it, a reference to the old white man she worked for as a child until he tried to molest her.

If Albritton's early life was troubled, she found religion at age 19 when God called her to go forth and heal. She wasn't convinced, so she gave God seven days to send her a sign, which came when a gay youth threatening suicide asked her for help. Soon others came to her for healing. Can I Go Home With You God is another rural landscape with rustic houses and shacks, but here, fluttering in the storm clouds, angels gaze down on the hapless humans below. They pop out at you partly because they seem to have been squeezed directly from the paint tube like frosting on a cake, and its almost sweet enough to make you forget about painting titles like Bastard Baby, Killers, Jail House Baby and Double Hanging and Partying Too. Recent news events also appear in apocalyptic 9/11 scenes like Twin Towers: Death in Hell and Pentagon. But, except for the latter, you have to look closely because Albritton's quaintly primitive yet often fluffy style can gloss over the visceral fire expressed in her wonderfully lurid titles.

Hell is also expressed in Christian Marclay's Guitar Drag video at the CAC. Part of his Three Compositions installation in the upstairs gallery, Drag is what its title suggests, a video (with soundtrack) of a guitar being dragged across rutted back country roads. A reenactment of what some demented racists did to James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, the video is monotonous, as is the screeching audio, but it's also gripping. The guitar is all too human, and as it is dragged, scraped and bashed to death its agony is palpable. A strong, visceral statement despite it all.

Mixed Reviews, a stream of words excerpted from music magazine reviews and reconstituted as a thin line of text across the gallery walls, is minimal to say the least. Its finale is a video projection of a deaf actor translating the words (many already translated from foreign languages) into sign language -- a real feat for someone never able to hear music. Unlike Drag, this is a total head trip, and it's really a matter of mood whether it's seen as profound or pointless. Equally cerebral is Marclay's Graffiti Composition, a collection of blank music pages that were posted around Berlin then reassembled with whatever markings were left on them. Not much to look at in the confines of a display case, they are slated to come to life on Nov. 12 when the Voodoo Tek ensemble performs them at 8 p.m. in the CAC's Freeport-MacMoRan theater.

The quaintly primitive style of Sarah Albritton's work, especially in works like Can I Go Home With You God, often glosses over Albritton's sometimes visceral fire.
  • The quaintly primitive style of Sarah Albritton's work, especially in works like Can I Go Home With You God, often glosses over Albritton's sometimes visceral fire.

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