Review: New Orleans artists present a celebration of diversity and place

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Courtesy of Jacques Soulas

“4 persimmons on plates” by Jacques Soulas

By Saskia Ozols, guest columnist

The current exhibit by the Renegade Artists Collective,Off the Beaten Path,” includes an outstanding combination of voices that link symbolism of New Orleans and the Greater Gulf South, through commentary on its history and notes on considerations for the future. 

RAC exhibition curators Erin McNutt and Cheryl Anne Grace, both painters themselves, organized the show to include artists of varied genres and professional backgrounds — all currently working in New Orleans and without traditional gallery representation. The exhibit features work by professional mid-career artists along with the works of select students, art majors chosen by a committee from local universities. 

Exhibiting new talent with established professionals has been a formula in historic art communities to assure longevity. It both preserves and promotes a healthy, thriving art community. The structure fosters growth and provides a pathway for both artists and collectors to persevere through generations despite otherwise challenging conditions. Cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia have long histories of this structure in their most venerated institutions.  

This structure is especially important now as visual arts practice, preservation and education are quickly slipping away from public view. Shuttered art departments, closed galleries and collectors’ shifting priorities due to pandemic-related circumstances have impacted the arts community significantly.

Courtesy of Ri Kailah Mathieu

“Native Refugee” by Ri Kailah Mathieu

One of the most outstanding student works is Native Refugee by Ri Kailah Mathieu. It depicts a young girl within a central composition reminiscent of Byzantine icons, yet rendered with a feel of graffiti.

A silkscreen on wood, the figure is presented with clenched hands, black braids and head silhouetted by a halo of gold leaf. Lettering within reads “refugee.” 

The work is chilling to view and suggests an examination of how we define “native” and embrace or reject the identity of a refugee.

This piece offers space for contemplation on both the contemporary refugee crisis as well as the complex history of interaction among the varied cultural traditions that make up New Orleans. 

Mathieu, a native New Orleanian, attended the prestigious NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) high school and is among the historic last group of art majors in the recently discontinued Loyola University art department. 

Professional artists in the exhibit as a group provide a well-rounded glance into the culture of the Gulf South.

Herb Roe’s The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems presents a beautifully rendered skeleton amidst a sea of gem-like and rainbow-colored carnival beads. With a version also in grisaille, these works sparkle with symbolism and point us toward meditation on the cycle of life or the ecological crisis regarding plastics. 

Herb Roe © 2021

“The Hidden Fragility of Complex Systems”by Herb Roe. 20″x20″ acrylic on canvas. All rights held by the artist.

In the monumental pen and ink drawing Mississippi Floods by Nurhan Gokturk, expressive mark-making and juxtapositions of scale, shape and form tower above the viewer. The rhythm of interstitial space with form suggests the Gulf South’s multifaceted relationships with floodplains and waterways.

Courtesy of Nurhan Gokturk

“Mississippi Floods” by Nurhan Gokturk

Michael Guidry’s colorful Salutation #2, White Alligator presents us with an opportunity for reflection on the beauty, color and vibrance of the flora and fauna in the Louisiana landscape. 

Courtesy of Michael Guidry

“Salutation #2, White Alligator” by Michael Guidry

Jaques Soulas’ paintings juxtapose intricate calligraphic patterns of line work with big bold paint. Sargent-esque brushwork weaves itself together as ripe persimmons, a local specialty, pop off of the canvas in a larger-than-life scale. 

Courtesy of Jacques Soulas

“Persimmons on blue tile” by Jacques Soulas, 18″x24″

Anita Cooke’s Strata, Pressure and Layers: Sand and Dirt, provide a respite through an investigation of the ground. Within the calm of a family of earth tones, woven canvas and thread depicting layers provide intricate and meticulous attention to detail and texture. Shadows within the work created by the forms she sews together accentuate contrasts with darkness and provide pathways to navigate. 

Courtesy of Anita Cooke

“Strata: Pressure” by Anita Cooke. 36″x48″ acrylic-painted canvas strips, thread

Audra Kohut’s shadowboxes, Enchanted Forest, and Journey of the Misfit Prince, present otherworldly compositions reminiscent of Joseph Cornell or stills from the films of Brothers Quay. Wheels and disassembled doll parts come together amidst a struggle in a Narnia-esque forest or shadows of imagination. The work incorporates movement, struggle and change through perplexing environments.

Courtesy of Audra Kohut

“Journey of the Misfit Prince” by Audra Kohut

Kim Bernadas, whose classical sculpture graces many of New Orleans’ public spaces, presents a series of small pieces that include 5 Stages of a Butterfly: Transformation. The series is sculpted in relief, and each piece represents a stage of transformation composed in a separate tondo composition. The series together provides inspiration on encountering spring and the process of transformation.

Courtesy of Kim Bernadas

“5 Stages of a Butterfly” by Kim Bernadas

The exhibit as a whole provides a thoughtful glance at the state of the visual arts community, commentary on the region of the Gulf South, and a well-balanced combination of related technical and conceptual contrasts. If nothing else, the exhibit provides inspiration to engage with and nurture the vibrant and diverse New Orleans art community.

The RAC’s “Off the Beaten Path” exhibit will be on display through April 30 at The Building, 1427 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Guest columnist Saskia Ozols is a painter and curator. She teaches painting and drawing at Loyola University New Orleans. 

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