Review: New Orleans artists present a celebration of diversity and place
By Saskia Ozols, guest columnist
The current exposure of Collective of renegade artists, “Off the beaten track,” includes an exceptional combination of voices that connect the symbolism of New Orleans and the Great Southern Gulf, through commentary on its history and notes on considerations for the future.
RAC exhibition curators Erin McNutt and Cheryl Anne Grace, both painters themselves, curated the exhibition to include artists from a variety of genres and professional backgrounds – all currently working in New Orleans and without traditional gallery representation. The exhibition features works by mid-career professional artists as well as works by selected students, art majors chosen by a committee of local universities.
Exposing new talent with established professionals has been a formula in historic art communities to ensure longevity. It preserves and promotes a healthy and thriving artistic community. The structure promotes growth and offers artists and collectors a path to persevere through generations despite otherwise difficult conditions. Cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia have a long history of this structure in their most revered institutions.
This structure is especially important now that the practice, preservation and education of the visual arts are rapidly moving away from public view. Closed art departments, shuttered galleries, and shifting collector priorities due to pandemic-related circumstances have had a significant impact on the art community.
One of the most notable student works is Indigenous refugee by Ri Kailah Mathieu. It depicts a young girl in a central composition reminiscent of Byzantine icons, but rendered with a graffiti feel.
A screen print on wood, the figure is presented with clenched hands, black braids and the head silhouetted by a halo of gold leaf. The lettering inside reads “Refugee”.
The work is chilling to behold and suggests an examination of how we define “native” and embrace or reject refugee identity.
This piece provides space for reflection on both the contemporary refugee crisis and the complex history of the interplay between the diverse cultural traditions that make up New Orleans.
Mathieu, a New Orleans native, attended the prestigious NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) High School and is part of the last historic group of art majors in the recently dropped Loyola University Art Department.
The professional artists in the exhibit as a group provide a comprehensive insight into Southern Gulf culture.
herb eggs The hidden fragility of complex systems features a beautifully rendered skeleton amidst a sea of gem-like, rainbow-colored carnival beads. With a version also in grisaille, these works sparkle with symbolism and direct us towards meditation on the cycle of life or the ecological crisis of plastics.
In the monumental pen and ink drawing Mississippi floods by Nurhan Gokturk, the creation of expressive marks and the juxtapositions of scale, shape and form dominate the viewer. The rhythm of interstitial space with form suggests the southern Gulf’s multifaceted relationships to floodplains and waterways.
The colors of Michael Guidry Greeting #2, white alligator provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the beauty, color, and vibrancy of flora and fauna in the Louisiana landscape.
Jaques Soulas’ paintings juxtapose intricate calligraphic patterns of linework with bold large paint. Sargent-esque brushwork weaves together as ripe persimmons, a local specialty, pop out of the canvas on a larger-than-life scale.
Anita Cooke Strata, Pressure and Layers: sand and earth, provide respite through field investigation. In the calm of a family of earth tones, woven canvas and layered yarn offer intricate and meticulous attention to detail and texture. The shadows in the work created by the shapes she sews together accentuate the contrasts with the darkness and provide pathways for navigation.
Audra Kohut’s shadowboxes, Enchanted Forestand Voyage of the Misfit Princefeature otherworldly compositions reminiscent of Joseph Cornell or still images from films of Quay of the Brothers. Wheels and disassembled dAll parties come together in the midst of a struggle in a Narnia-like forest or in the shadows of the imagination. The work incorporates movement, struggle and change through confusing environments.
Kim Bernadas, whose classic sculpture adorns many public spaces in New Orleans, 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 into a distinct tondo composition. The series provides inspiration on encountering spring and the process of transformation.
The exhibit as a whole offers a thoughtful look at the state of the visual arts community, commentary on the southern Gulf region, and a well-balanced combination of related technical and conceptual contrasts. If nothing else, the exhibit provides inspiration to engage with and nurture New Orleans’ vibrant and diverse arts community.
RAC’s “Off the Beaten Path” exhibit will be on view through April 30 at The Building, 1427 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. The gallery is open Thursday to 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.