OVER the last decade, the growth of vital art centers outside
New York has been so extraordinary that it will likely be deemed the
New American Regionalism by future historians.
Though university-educated, the new regionalists have resisted
both the high-culture blandishments of academic art and the
nostalgia of much provincial work. Their efforts have been supported
by a comparable increase in regional galleries, art journals, and by
the general change of local newspaper art-writing to genuinely
informative and sophisticated criticism.
Unlike regional artists in the past, who frequently rejected the
art of their times, contemporary regionalists embrace current art
issues, yet phrase them in the language of a particular place.
Nowhere is this articulation of the global through the local more
apparent then in the work of the Visionary Imagist, an association
of southern Louisiana artists.
They have adapted the visual vocabulary of jazz,
rhythm-and-blues, Cajun music, voodoo, Mardi Gras, and Mediterranean
Catholicism to relay their concern with spiritual malaise and
environmental desecration. Hot Caribbean colors in their work pay
tribute to the semitropical climate and the often forgotten Latin
heritage of the area.
As the name implies, these imagists have forsworn both
abstraction and the cool cerebrations of minimalism in favor of
naturalist representation. Yet lurking in the recognizable objects
is a teasingly skewed illusionism. Subtle incongruities of scale
create a sense of the uncanny or the surreal. The viewer is invited
to see the figures not as simple representations but as metaphors.
Underlying the individuality of the Visionary Imagists is a
yearning for transcendence. For Douglas Bourgeois, whom Artnews
magazine recently named as one of the 10 American artists for the
1990s, the "personal search for the ineffable" has focused on pop
culture. In the late 1970s, Bourgeois's canvases filled with
portraits - icons, really - of doomed cult figures like Elvis
Presley, Montgomery Clift, and Tuesday Weld. But his recent
paintings, inspired by friends who have surmounted self-destructive
behavior like alcohol and drug abuse, symbolize the possibility for
The moral seriousness of Bourgeois's painting - indeed of all the
Visionary Imagists - contrasts with the nonchalant irony or acid
pessimism of much contemporary art. Yet humor is a mainstay. A fey
postmodern word-play has been transplanted to the cultural soil of
the bayous by Kentucky-born painter Ann Hornback. Hornback expresses
both ecological and feminist concerns in her literal visual
translations of common expressions like "Bus Boys" or "Broad
Similarly inventive is Andrew Bascle, whose sculptures are made
from found objects. Observers have sometimes interpreted Bascle's
creative reuse of scrap metal, plastic bottles, and even lint as a
plea for recycling. Bascle, however, strives for something else. "I
believe all materials have a hidden life which I try to bring out,"
he has explained.
The meticulous craftsmanship in Visionary Imagist art, a
reaffirmation of the value of work, is typified in the paintings and
painted constructions of Jacqueline Bishop. …