Andy Coughlan, ISSUE Contributor
New Orleans is a unique place. The Crescent City is a combination of the sacred and the profane — the exact percentages of each seem to vary according to whom is being asked to judge.
The Dishman Art Museum on the Lamar University campus, in collaboration with the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, is hosting “Crescent City Connection,” an exhibition of work by New Orleans-based artists.
This work on display is diverse in style and media, but all of it shares a stunning attention to detail. The professionalism of the workmanship alone would be enough to recommend a visit. But more than that, the artists all seem to address the idea of connection — be it time, place or culture — often with a sense of humor.
All the artwork in the show is of a high quality, but the exhibition kicks off with a “Wow!” factor.
As soon as the visitor turns into the gallery, one is confronted by Gina Phillips’ epic “Holt Cemetery.” The immense mixed media piece, which incorporates quilted fabrics as its central media, literally fills a gallery wall.
Phillips, in her artist statement, writes that her work deals with nostalgia. But she states that in its original definition, it applied to the medical condition of soldiers who experience a sense of longing to be home. Not for her does nostalgia evoke the rose-colored tint of picket fences and apple pie.
The piece requires careful study. Part quilt, part drawing, “Holt Cemetery” is a surreal combination of images. In the lower right, two dogs appear to be in a standoff over a pile of severed limbs. They are both menacing and playful.
In the lower left, a cute toddler squats atop a mound of giant, pulled teeth — not exactly the kind of image that leaves one with a smile.
The upper torso and head of a man hang from an arm that clings tight to an eagle’s talon.
And all these things are dwarfed by a giant quilted tree that fills the wall. — the tree of life, perhaps?
The quilted textures and the colors of the fabric give the piece a richness and depth that is both inviting and disconcerting.
The Dishman’s upper gallery features some beautiful collage/printmaking combinations by Michael Pajon.
These pieces are bright and colorful, and evoke the rich and lavishly illustrated childrens’ book of the early 20th century. Yet they are not quite “right.” They are surreal and, because of the juxtapositions of images, slightly disturbing.
In his artist statement, Pajon writes of collage as being a “scavenger’s medium,” and he has found and reassembled images to suggest that the illustrations of our childhoods were not exactly what they seemed.
Pajon, on his website, states that the works evoke a sense of place and history.
“They entice the viewer to slow down and take in a landscape of information and clues,” he states. “The work offers a roadmap of an America that seems both imagined and real, a blending of true artifact and an artificial past, a fleeting glimpse and a memory not quite placed.”
By reworking the images, he re-invents their history. The combinations of each part’s individual history is altered to give it new life.
“Liar, Lovers and Backstabbers” reminds one of a board game that is spilling out of control.
There is a chaos as animals move around, people have animal heads — in this way Pajon echoes Max Ernst’s collages of the 1920s and ’30s, although they are much more colorful. A flapper with horse legs, a young girl in a blue dress with the head of an elephant — and the hunter shoots not at an animal, but at a running man.
Pajon’s work demands careful scrutiny, such is the amount of information in each piece. One could argue that a wry sense of humor would also be a valuable viewing tool.
Generic Art Solutions (Matt Vis and Tony Campbell) offer us recreations of classical paintings, again with a twist. The pair play all the characters as they pose for photographic renderings of Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” or Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” The photographs are immaculately done and from the distance one is fooled.
The highlight of their work at the Dishman, however, is the tapestry of the last supper. Set at a series of folding tables outside of a trailer, the pair transform the classical to the modern, and we see the thread that runs from the Renaissance to the present day.
It is in these epic classics that we find the simplicity of the human condition.
Dan Rule’s “Upward” and “Authentically Lived Their Lives on Camera” are videos that challenge us to question what we are seeing. In the former, nothing is really going up, but layers of clouds and the walls of the building are going down. In “Authentically,” a variety of objects defy gravity — clothes, golf bags, bottles, suitcases — drawn in such a way as to be refugees from one of Herge’s “Tin-Tin” books. It is almost a “Where’s Waldo” of the products of our existence. And the sound of wind whooshing by reminds us that like everything else, one day it will all just float away.
Other artists included in the exhibition are Anita Cooke, Hannah Chalew, Bob Snead, Justin Forbes, Skylar Fein, Adam Mysock, Jonathan Ferrara, Sidonie Villere, Christopher Saucedo and Dan Tague.
“Crescent City Connection: Collaboration with the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery” is on display through Nov. 22.
The Dishman is located at 1030 E. Lavaca in Beaumont.
For more, call 409-880-8959. ers hanging on every word.