Amanda Holt Robichaux
Approaching the Horizon
acrylic on canvas triptych
Fire and Brimstone
enamel, dye and goldleaf on hand-tooled leather
Sunset Drive – Arrival
gilded media on panel
ink on panel
C’est une Valse
Pilar Z. McCracken
oil and acrylic on canvas
On February 11, 2012, my wife Kirstie and I had quite the day. Mardi Gras fever had taken hold of Lafayette. My wife’s main priority was attending the local dog parade with our Shih Tzu, Gigi. I was dreading it, and once we were there, I regretted every minute of it. I’ve got absolutely nothing against dogs, but dog parades are pretty ridiculous. It’s been my experience that dogs generally detest clothing and costumes, yet we humans continue to anthropomorphize and exploit them for our amusement. I suppose it’s a small price for a species to pay in exchange for free room and board. Anyway, Gigi was freezing and miserable, even though she was sporting her pink skull-and-crossbones sweater (’cause she’s so punk rock – LMAO!). She kept on shivering and ducking between us to avoid being pelted by beads or attacked by other dogs. Mercifully, it ended rather quickly despite some logistical hiccups. Kirstie left for home with Gigi while I made my way to the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
I work at the ACA as a preparator, but this Artwalk day I was also representing as one of the artists in the exhibition Lost and Found: Louisiana’s Landscape Revisited. I showed up a little early to make sure that everything was running smoothly for the opening, which was to take place an hour after I arrived. Immediately, I was plunged into exhibition hell: one of the videos wasn’t working. A comedy of errors ensued involving frantic calls to the ACA’s curator who was out-of-town on business, another video artist who was too busy watching the Metropolitan Opera being broadcast in the Moncus Theatre, the receptionist and myself. Did I mention that technology generally gives me the hives? Fortunately, I managed to get the video running just in time for the opening.
Then a maelstrom of small talk, artspeak and cigarette breaks, punctuated by numerous warnings not to touch or walk on the art (for some reason the general public can’t get over its need to touch or manhandle art, which while inappropriate, is sort of a good thing in a weird way), overtook me. My wife arrived and had a conversation with a girl who was perplexed, if not slightly angered, by the art on display. She couldn’t comprehend why all this bizarre stuff was being lauded as “good art.” My wife asked her to point out the one piece that angered her the most. She pointed directly at my painting. When my wife told me this, I cheekily felt really pleased with my work. One mission accomplished … I guess!?! Leave it to this art critic to create the most inaccessible art on display!
After the opening, my wife and I went out for dinner Downtown. After that, we were stuck. We couldn’t return home because there was a parade between us and our front door. By that time, it was so cold, the last thing we wanted to do was attend another parade. We decided to cut through the neighborhood of Freetown and head to the other side of Lafayette for some coffee and pastry. It was on our way back that I remembered that the artists of the Warehouse on Garfield Street were holding a post-Artwalk exhibition.
When we arrived, the Warehouse was already buzzing and the activity there only increased as the night wore on. Yet, the experience of the venue, the art, the artists and the patrons was lightyears away from the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The Warehouse always feels intimate and comfortable. There’s a certain amount of ease that goes along with viewing work there. As I write this, I have to laugh about this amazing quality that the Warehouse has because while we were there, we witnessed a protracted relationship meltdown, a guy who shouldn’t have been hitting on my wife hit on wife, and every time I wanted to talk to one of the artists exhibiting, they were either MIA or involved in long conversations with others. I mention ALL of the above to illustrate a point made in one of my favorite pieces at the Warehouse: “C’est une Valse” by Lucius Fontenot.
The title of Fontenot’s conceptual/digital photograph translates to “It’s a Waltz.” Yeah, life is a waltz … a fast and fleeting waltz with many partners and a lot of ups and downs. Fontenot manages to capture this poetic concept with exceptional economy. His viewers are given a glimpse of the tops of trees with the statement itself hovering over them like a lonely cloud passing through the photograph’s blue sky. Writers kill for this kind of simplicity and eloquence when trying to convey something so complex and ironic, yet full of gravitas. With “C’est une Valse,” Fontenot proves that, with nothing more than a few clicks of a camera and a mouse, truly profound and nourishing art can be achieved. What is interesting is that Fontenot’s piece is not very far off visually from the work of famed Pop/Conceptual artist Ed Ruscha. Yet, the feel of Fontenot’s piece is qualitatively different. Whereas Ruscha’s work generally exudes a sense of Southern Californian, apocalyptic anxiety and self-reflexive cleverness, Fontenot’s piece seems light and at ease with the fleetingness of life. It’s got “joi de vivre” – a thoroughly French/Cajun concept which, in my opinion, is much needed at this juncture in our civilization.
The other highlight of the evening for me was viewing the work of Brett Chigoy, who has been spending the better part of the past year recalibrating his artistic practice and crafting intricate images with leather, dyes and gold leaf. Chigoy’s images have always been indebted to the technique of pastiche, whether of the Dada, Surrealist or Postmodern variety. Chigoy’s interest in combining disparate images into one work continues with his current oeuvre; however, his image choices and the nature of his new media reach back to more unified and Romantic ideals somewhere between 19th century paintings of the Wild West, late 19th and early 2Oth century photographs, Art Nouveau, Greek Antiquity and early American leather crafts. Due to this mix, Chigoy’s new body of work downplays irony in favor of a rooted investigation of history, myth and place that still reads as contemporary art. Fire and Brimstone is an excellent case in point. Chigoy renders a pair of musicians (probably based on photographs from the turn of the last century) before a lusty red harlequin’s pattern and surrounded by stylized flowers and foliage that evoke Corinthian columns, Art Nouveau decoration and the designs one may find on a Western-style leather belt. Plus, the fiery image and the title of the piece meld and hark back to enduring myths of musicians being associated with the darker aspects of life. The relief Chigoy achieves with the expertly tooled leather of the piece provides a sense of shared and unified space. Fire and Brimstone and the three other pieces Chigoy displayed make a strong case for a return to craft practices and a renewed dialogue with history in contemporary art.
Sculptor/painter Christopher Labauve offered some interesting work on Artwalk night. The most successful of which were his “broken” paintings, all of which were untitled. With these works, Labauve treats the black frames of these as visual “containers” for the ink paintings inside them.The frames seem broken in various way, “allowing” for the paintings they “contain” to “leak” out of the frames. All of the quotations above hint at somewhat of a weakness in these pieces: while clever, they only depict brokenness and leakage, rather than fully engaging in these processes. As such, they operate as mere jokes on the conventions of painting. In terms of painting fusing with sculpture and the concept of brokenness, I would urge Labauve and the reader to seek out the works of Angela de la Cruz who manages to engage these ideas fully by allowing her work to literally embody these concepts. Jim Lambie is yet another contemporary artist to which I would refer Labauve and the reader as he has been know to create works that employ actual leakage, rather than simple depictions of it. These recommendations aren’t meant as a critical attack on Labauve’s work as much as a gentle nudge of encouragement because the territory he’s exploring is extremely engaging and fertile.
The rest of the fare on display at the warehouse had its own merits. Camille Banuchi’s gilded paintings operated as dreamy fusions of religious iconcography and landscapes. Amanda Holt Robichaux’s “Approaching the Horizon” continued her experimentation between abstraction and depictions of the human form. Rocky Perkins provided somewhat of a Gerhard Richter moment in the exhibition, displaying a Photorealist painting of the World Trade Center beside an abstract painting. Gabrielle Savoy displayed a handful of delicate and surreal multi-media works that had the air of storybook illustrations, and Pilar Z. McCracken offered a vertical column of playful prints that seemed to mimic photobooth pics.
True to form, the artists of the Warehouse on Garfield were all over the “dance floor”, exploring their own idiosyncratic sensibilities. Moving from one artist’s space in the main hall to another required a constant shift in perspective, but it was worth it. In the end, I felt satisfied. In a couple of instances, I was left looking forward to the next waltz.
Reggie Michael Rodrigue