Time sure does fly. I can remember, albeit dimly, when Jonathan Ferrara, Alex Beard and others were attempting to organize the first No Dead Artists (NDA) show at an earlier gallery back in the mid-'90s, which from this perspective seems a truly bygone time. So much life-altering stuff has happened since then, from millennial shifts to killer terrorists to killer hurricanes, that the mid-'90s seems like another century " which, of course, it was, but I mean, like, really another century. So long ago that Anne Rice was still a hot gothic novelist and Kurt Cobain was either still alive or almost still alive. I suspect that the average art gallery in America today might not have even been around in the mid-'90s, so for a program like No Dead Artists to even make it this far is noteworthy in its own right.
Beyond longevity, Ferrara says this year's NDA is particularly noteworthy for being the first edition picked by a national jury, in this case Chicago artist and celebrity Tony Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles art collector Billie Milam Weisman of the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, and New Orleans art collector Michael Wilkinson. Ferrara says this year's selection of work by 15 artists out of a total of roughly 180 entries from all over Louisiana continues to push the scope of the project well beyond city limits, with new work by artists from Madisonville, Hammond and Baton Rouge.
As for the work in question, it is in some ways the usual NDA goulash of innovative, eccentric and occasionally downright weird undertakings by an array of emerging and perennially emerging artists of all sorts. In other words, it's sort of a circus, not entirely consistent but generally intriguing and occasionally provocative. As in recent NDA exhibits, photography, collage and assemblage figure prominently in the mix, yet it must be noted that some of the more striking pieces on view were executed in such traditional media as painting and woodcuts, and even much of the photography has been manipulated in ways ordinarily associated with other, more traditional media.
J. Stirling Barrett's nocturnal photographs of old local houses are sliced and diced and collaged together with elements seemingly taken at different times and from different angles, providing a colorful, neocubist approach that also evokes popular Michalopoulos paintings of old New Orleans homes that seem to almost shimmy and shake. A different approach is taken by Kevin Levine, whose photographs of tankers on the Mississippi seem almost like bold, straightforward compositions at first, at least until we notice that those brooding colors are really quite saturated, in some cases perhaps even solarized or posterized, lending an eerie expressionist quality that captures something of the mystery of the ancient river and its ever-changing industrial milieu.
A very different approach is taken by Generic Art Solutions (Matt Vis and Tony Campbell) in The Last Supper, where local seafood spread out on newspapers takes the place of the usual biblical trappings seen in Renaissance paintings of the same name, and where Vis and Campbell are photo-montaged in various poses to depict Jesus and his disciples. Besides being clever, this provides us with a useful way of visualizing how biblical stories might have looked had they been set in 21st century Chalmette.
In the realm of traditional painting, Matthew Kirscht's Coming Home is a whimsically disturbing vision of a child-world fantasy in which a little humanoid bear confronts an ominous gingerbread house embellished with super-size cupcakes, glowing lollipops and menacingly leering clown heads that somehow evoke every sort of creepy thing that could possibly befall a munchkin " strong, strange stuff. Barbie L'Hoste similarly employs the visual vocabulary of innocence in paintings that use printed photographs lifted from pop media to set up whimsical psychic theaters where elements of kitsch and realism seem to compete for dominance. But Christine Squassoni returns us to the biblical visions of the Renaissance in her woodcut, Assumption, in which George W. Bush stands like a holy prophet atop a miniature Superdome as angels with the face of Dick Cheney cavort all around him. Finally, Tamar Taylor invokes Anne Rice in a bas relief that presents us with a gothic vision of New Orleans as an amphibious terrain inhabited by saints, shotguns and skeletons playing hot jazz as sharks and crawfish patrol the swampy byways. Once again, No Dead Artists gives us an unusual selection of talents to watch, artists that we will almost certainly be hearing more about in times to come.
- Cheryl Gerber
- Christine Squassoni, Assumption, woodcut No Dead Artists
- Tamar Taylor, Our Beloved Bowl No. 2, plastic, hydrostone, watercolor, acrylic
- J. Stirling Barrett, Christmas on Magazine, gicle on cotton canvas
- Diane Hanson, Farmscape 2, acrylic and resin on wood
- Tim Kennedy, The Nightmare, papier-mch with wire armature Generic Art Solutions
- Kevin Levine, C.C.C. , digital photography
- The Last Supper, gicle print