Camille Adrienne Banuchi
gilded oil painting (composition and precious leaf)
“Fierce Left Hook”
archival glue, ink and acrylic
Amanda Holt Robicheaux
“Courir de Mardi Gras – Sots sur les Chevaux”
oil on canvas
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
For this November’s Artwalk in Lafayette, there was an extra destination off the beaten path for art patrons. Typically, Artwalk is extremely Jefferson Street-centric. Patrons usually remain on or near the street, rarely venturing beyond the confines of Downtown. However, for the intrepid art adventurer, the Warehouse (located at 625 Garfield St. in the neighborhood of Freetown) offered a more warm and mellow art experience than any other this Artwalk night.
The Warehouse is just as it’s name implies: a small warehouse. However, this warehouse has been converted into a building housing artists’ studios and exhibition space through the wide, central hallway that runs through the middle of it. Walking into the Warehouse is quite interesting. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much. It’s basically a rusty, tin shed with a gravel and dirt parking lot. It’s also located beside a set of train tracks. Yet, on the inside, proprietor and artist Herb Roe has created an inviting and warm atmosphere for the appreciation of the art that the Warehouse studio artists exhibit there. Wood floors, a good deal of wall space and ample lighting provide the ideal atmosphere for small exhibitions. The works of the four artists on view this past Artwalk, Camille Adrienne Banuchi, Chris LaBauve, Amanda Holt Robicheaux and Herb Roe, himself, all fit nicely into the space. However, their works are all radically different in style and content, as is the case in most studio exhibitions.
Camille Adrienne Banuchi offered the most romantic work on view. Her series of intimate, gilded oil paintings of swamp scenes hit the mark somewhere between 19th century landscapes, religious icons and the kind of work one could find at a hippie flea market. The mix makes for some contemplative yet dazzling and psychedelic viewing. Due to the various mottled, gilded skies, suns and moons in these works, light seems to emanate directly from them, and a shift in perspective to either side of them reveals different facets of the paintings. While I was in their spell, I felt a peculiar amalgam of serenity, playfulness and awe.
Playfulness is nothing new in terms of what Banuchi’s work usually elicits from viewers. In the past, she has created a plethora of humorous works devoted to icons. She’s created a painting of Jesus Christ taking a coffee break and smoking, titled “The Last Coffee Break.” She’s conflated Elvis Presley with Christ in a series of prints based on the Stations of the Cross. Banuchi has also created a series of icons of close friends as saints with collaged frames made from the labels of the sitters’ favorite products. In her last series, she turned her favorite products, including Slap Ya Mama seasoning, into pop icons. There’s definitely a strong Catholic sensibility running through her art. Her latest suite is no different, except that she trades in the running gags and humorous schtick for images of great solitude and communion with nature. My best guess is that she’s mellowed into a quiet and contemplative place in her life. Even though her current paintings share the same iconic status of her previous work, they are light years away in attitude and substance.
Speaking of gimmicks and schtick, artist Chris LaBauve plays the wiseguy in this group of studio artists. There’s always something compelling about his gimmicks and schtick, however. He’s the artistic equivalent of the kid in the back of every third grade class eating paste and throwing spit balls. Yet, many of his works display a level of pathos, skill and obsession that push his work well beyond the elementary. In the Warehouse exhibition, LaBauve is displaying some of his past hits, such as the large collage of singed cigarette butts that coalesces into a bird’s eye view of the artist standing on a crack in a side walk and his mash-up of a self portrait as Uncle Sam via the Garbage Pail Kids (the satirical trading cards from the 80′s that lampooned the Cabbage Patch Kids craze). This last piece displays Labauve in red, white and blue regalia with his finger up his nose and is titled “Digging for Gold.” The whole image is painted on top of collaged cigarette packs which peek out from under the paint.
The new work on display from Labauve is a continuation of a personal obsession with glue and ink that started a decade ago. LaBauve has become somewhat of a maestro with the bizarre pairing, coaxing different effects out of the materials. He manages to broach both representation and abstraction with the mix. In a large, black and white painting titled “Fierce Left Hook,” Labauve presents yet another self portrait with an exaggerated perspective. In this ominous piece, LaBauve’s over-sized head hovers at the top of the canvas over his torso and his cocked left arm – his hand balled in a fist. The man is ready for a fight, and glue is his weapon of choice. Also on display is a series of small, black and white, rectangular, glue and ink paintings. Abstract effects seem to be the name of the game in these works. They are reminiscent of all sorts of natural phenomena such as marble and waves. They also take on the appearance of mathematical fractals and elicit the urge to zoom into them in order to find other universes within them. LaBauve is displaying these untitled works on either side of his large, menacing self portrait, setting off a push/pull dichotomy between the works and viewers.
Amanda Holt Robicheaux is the individual who is painting in the ether among the four artists. In Robicheaux’s work, beautifully delicate abstractions swathe ghostly bodies that seem to float and fall across the canvas. Her figures exist somewhere between the women of Gustav Klimt with their full hips and contorted, liquid poses and the winnowing featureless and existential angst of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures. There’s something bruised and alien at work in Robicheaux’s limbless figures. However, thanks to her feminine touch, these complex figures are also immensely pretty. In this particular body of work, Robicheaux heightens the allure of her work through the use of a range of bright, floral colors. It all makes for a compelling view that is analogous to watching a delicate rain fall in the midst of a sunny, spring day. Light and darkness coexist in Robicheaux’s work, but in this instance, light seems to be carrying the day. Beside the change in color palette and emotional tone, Robicheaux’s work has also undergone a change in size and scale. In the past, the artist has primarily shown large and forceful paintings. The works she is presenting at the Warehouse, much like Camille Adrienne Banuchi’s, are intimate and inviting, despite their otherworldly qualities.
Warehouse proprietor Herb Roe is the lone realist in the group of four. Typically, realist painting over the past 100 years has either been dull, strangely lifeless, overly dramatic, cliched and/or lacking in criticality. There have been artists who have birthed exceptions to this rule, however. Edward Hopper, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Gerhard Richter, Richard Estes and Chuck Close all brought something stridently personal and revelatory to their realist works. One could say the same thing about Herb Roe, concerning his paintings devoted to the subject of the traditional Louisiana Mardi Gras as it is practiced in small, Southwestern prairie towns such as Mamou. The style of Roe’s works is strictly documentary, but what he is documenting is an entirely hermetic world that few outside these small towns ever see. Roe is originally from Ohio, and one gets the sense that the point of view of his Mardi Gras paintings is that of an outsider with an insider’s pass to the mystery, tradition, ritual and frivolity inherent in his chosen subject. The artist navigates viewers around one riotous canvas after another through the use of the wild colors of the revelers’ costumes and the idiosyncratic actions they seem to be undertaking. Drunken celebrants marching, playing music, standing on the backs of horses, chasing chickens – it’s all there to be marveled at and analyzed. These images are as realist as it gets, yet they read as hyperrealism. They somehow go beyond the ordinary and the mundane into another realm. This is what gives Roe’s Mardi Gras paintings their vitality and freshness. In a sense, I think that, in Acadiana, Roe’s Mardi Gras work gets taken for granted a bit. We’re all at least a little familiar with the subject. I think outside Louisiana, these works would definitely take on a life of their own with the assistance of an outsider’s perspective.
So, despite the lack of any coherence between the works of the artists involved, the current exhibition at the Warehouse works nonetheless due to the integrity of the art and the space itself. It’s not a mind-blowing exhibition, but it’s a solid one, filled with some romantic, satirical, ethereal and lived moments. That is success in my book, whether it is on the beaten path or off it.