Margaret Evangeline was born in Cajun country and grew up around Baton Rouge, and word has it she is a great shot with a rifle or shotgun. For years she lived in New Orleans, where she graduated with a master's degree in fine art from UNO and exhibited her abstract paintings in local galleries. She still does, but in the early 1990s, she got bit by the Gotham bug and has managed to blaze a trail through the Manhattan art jungle ever since. As her work has evolved from early, atmospheric abstract canvases to her increasingly metallic and ballistic concoctions of brilliant pigments on bullet-riddled stainless steel or aluminum panels, Evangeline cuts an ever more colorful figure in a mega art-metropolis where a dash of well-placed drama never hurts. While I sometimes wonder how much depth there is behind the drama, her work is consistently engaging to the senses.
That much is clear even in earlier works like the 1990 collage painting The Universal Power of Moon Time with its icons of feminine archetypes over the ages, seemingly floating in a swirling sea of cosmic blues, verdant greens and bloody crimson, suggesting connections between the primordial seas at the birth of the world and the crimson currents that flow through the body. Related themes appear in more abstract form in later New York works such as her 1998 piece The Uterine Fury of Marie Antoinette No. 1, a mélange of translucent colors over a brushed aluminum surface. The moiré metal yields an illusion of depth while the tints evoke the essence of organic life, as if some sort of mysterious biological drama was unfolding.
In the Jeanne d'Arc Burns Alive series, splotches of crimson on brushed aluminum can read like freshly spilled blood or as something more impressionistic, maybe a Monet garden scene. With her 2005 Los Lunas No. 6, a large, rectangular panel of pristinely polished stainless steel, Evangeline goes almost totally minimal except for the bullet hole through the middle, a perforation that somehow seems as personal as a navel in a human torso. And it's all high drama flash-frozen in an act of metal-against-metal violence that in Evangeline's hands becomes something remarkably aesthetic, a memento mori, a summary act of simultaneous creation and destruction.
Across town, something unusual was stirring in the beautifully antique and disheveled, if occasionally violent, neighborhood of St. Roch. There on Villere Street last week, nationally respected conceptual artist Mel Chin inaugurated his Safe House sculpture, an exact, full-size replica of a walk-in bank vault door grafted onto the front of an old shotgun house. Lining the walls inside house-vault were thousands of Fundred Dollar bills, a new form of $100 dollar bill printed from a template and hand colored by school kids.
The point is to have kids in schools across America create enough of them to total the $300 million scientists estimate it will take to remove the lead from New Orleans' soil, where it exists in sometimes staggering concentrations well above the levels the EPA considers safe. The human toll from this contamination is also staggering as lead in the environment has been shown to be a major cause of learning disabilities and violent behavior among the children who play in yards and streets across the city every day. Chin is banking on the idea that a ceremony in which schoolchildren present Congress with $300 million in his Fundred Dollar bills for the purpose of cleaning up New Orleans' soil will cause them to do the right thing and spring the real U.S. dollars it will take to get the job done. It's a novel idea, but no one disputes the urgency of the need. If he succeeds, it will be a huge victory for the city and the future of its youngest citizens.
- Margaret Evangeline's The Uterine Fury of Marie Antoinette No. 1 creates an illusion of depth with overtones of biological drama.