Art Evoking Particular Places Lousiana's Visual Imagists Express Global Concerns through Local Style and Themes
Mary Warner Marien, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
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 healing.
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 Minded."
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. …