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Review: a trio of surrealist shows in the Warehouse District

Works by Anastasia Pelias, Kikuo Saito and James Kennedy

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Are there more coincidences in New Orleans than elsewhere? Sometimes it seems that way, as evidenced by three abstract painting shows on Julia Street that remarkably yet coincidentally complement each other. New Orleans artist Anastasia Pelias' Sisters series of oil stick paintings may be her most deftly atmospheric and gestural works to date. Rendered in swatches of drippy sea mists, emphatic charcoal smudges and subtle wisps of color, all were painted while listening to recordings of female singers for whom the paintings are named. Painting to music is nothing new, but Pelias' lithe charcoal gestures convey a choreographic fluidity. Reminiscent of Edo-period Japanese ink studies where calligraphy and imagery seem to have knocked back some sake and danced a tango together, works like Joni evoke ethereal musical sequences. Patsy (pictured) recalls a mysterious Asian pictograph radiating secret meanings, or maybe just plans for a hermit hut cobbled from driftwood and old kimonos. Deftly yet playfully executed, Sisters reveals a promising new direction for Pelias.

  Kikuo Saito's paintings at Octa- via Art Gallery reflect the Tokyo native's flair for floating, gestural brushstrokes inflected with a prismatic bravura derived from his deep understanding of great abstract painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, with whom he once worked. These paintings are from 2010 to 2015, his final years, and are so pristine we only can wonder what would have come next.

  James Kennedy's syn•tac•tic paintings at Callan Contemporary are so precisely and delicately balanced that some suggest cutaway illustrations of futuristic inventions, maybe advanced automobile en-gines powered by the sounds of birds or barking dogs. Some recall Marcel Duchamp's alchemical diagrams crafted in glass, but beyond its sense of mysterious inner music expressed in whimsical mechanisms, this show lives up to its billing as a "spatial conversation" with a "highly developed aesthetic grammar." And of course, syntax — hence its name.

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