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Skin Deep



Their appearance is quiet, minimal and deceptively simple. Deftly cobbled from the most ephemeral of materials, twigs, scraps of paper, antique letters and old photos, Raine Bedsole's new mixed-media works sometimes appear almost weightless. You may have to look twice to realize they're affixed to the wall and not about to float off into the ozone. An unusual assortment of gossamer boats and the silhouetted forms of female figures like intricately textured shadows, their presence in the starkly elegant gallery is strikingly subtle, accessible yet mysterious. Both more and less than they seem, they suggest visual poems crafted from found objects.

The last time I discussed Bedsole's work with her at any length a few years ago, she spoke of a dream in which she had to devise "a mathematical equation for the skin of flowers." I forgot all about it until I saw these works in which so much appears on, or just below, their delicate surfaces, and yes, the "skin of flowers" -- a material that may have been known to the faeries of old, but surely to no one since --Êis just ethereal enough to be descriptive. The Net Boat, at over 6 feet, is almost long enough for a canoe or kayak, but it's really too much of a paradox to take to the Honey Island Swamp any time soon. A spindly craft cobbled from drawn graphite netting, it floats on a sea of paint and plaster on wood, but that's not all. Look closely and there are lines of text just under the surface, a skein of words, ideas and concepts, perhaps the only things dense enough to float a boat made from spidery graphite netting.

Some nearby oars rendered in wood, paint and plaster look ancient, like the paddles from one of Captain Ahab's dinghies after ages lost at sea. Like all relics, they have stories to tell. Look closely at the Poetry Oar and lines from some Rilke sonnets appear in appropriate profusion. In the Tree Tops, a more than 6-foot-long paint-and-plaster skiff with a filigree of tree branches, is a reminder of the storm's topsy-turvy chaos. But Bedsole has been an artist of boats, women and the natural world all along, so this is really nothing new. It's just that changes in circumstances have a way of changing our perspective. In this sense, Fragments of Lost Days, a slender boat woven from long, wickerlike twigs, is emblematic. Cloth or paper strips with musical notes, newsprint or arithmetic notations hang like Tibetan prayer flags from its spindly form, a classic Bedsole reference to boats as vessels of transformation, bearers of the soul from this world to the next. It also recalls the rags the storm surge left hanging from trees, even the steel framework that was all that remained of my parents' old house on Bay St. Louis.

The female figures are no less evocative. After the Flood is the outline of a statuesque woman. Facing us from an atmospheric background, actually a collage of maps painted in pale shades of mist, she is covered with a mesh of wickerlike twigs, a throwback to the days of straw men and wicker women. Her form is mute yet resonant, an icon of things deeply felt yet left unsaid over the course of time immemorial. Boat in Hands, a smaller piece, returns us to the vessels theme, only this canoe was meant to ply a sea of memories in the form of old photographs of two girls, siblings of a sepia past and all that might imply. All in all, it's vintage Bedsole, a visual poet of time rendered through the ephemera of its passage.

On a more jarring note, Jacqueline Bishop has confirmed that she has terminated her popular Louisiana Artist interview series on WWNO, the local National Public Radio affiliate, saying that it's "no longer the same station" following the resignation of several long-term staffers including such high-profile on-air figures as James Arey and Fred Kasten. While offering no specifics, she left no doubt that she considers the station's current management responsible for the exodus. Whatever the reason for its demise, Louisiana Artist was an important voice for this community. It will be missed.

Raine Bedsole's mixed-media works such as Boat in Hands - suggest journeys through time and memory as well as - space.
  • Raine Bedsole's mixed-media works such as Boat in Hands suggest journeys through time and memory as well as space.

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