Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Orleans Gambit-Weekly review of Louis St.Lewis

Gambit-Weekly's Arts & Entertainment cover story

Martyrs and Vamps
by D.Eric Bookhardt

And now, for something different. Local art buffs may not know their names, but each is well known in his or her field or region,  Louis St. Lewis has over the years attained a high degree of notoriety  throughout the South, most notably either in Charleston where he was born to a clan of dry-docked yacht-owning gentry, or else in North Carolina's rural hill country, depending on which bio one chooses to believe.  Sean Yseult is also a North Carolinian and in recent years a Big Easy  resident.  Perhaps best known for her musical exploits as the bassist with the band White Zombie, she was co-founder of the local group Rock City Morgue.

Both went to art school together in North Carolina before embarking on their divergent paths, so this show, which features a number of collaborative works as well as individual pieces by each artist, it is a reunion of sorts.  Yseult's photography appears as backlit images in light boxes framed with red velvet, so there's a sense of theater or old-time cinema, appropriate to her subjects: voluptuous odalisques posed like Sarah Bernhardt on tiger skin rugs, or Ophelia-like maidens awash in seaweed.

St.Lewis excels in a series of smallish collages, a mix of pop and classical images cut up and sandwiched between sheets of pexiglas.   Touched up with paint and displayed in ornate frames they have, thanks to their plexi layers, more depth and glass than most collages.  He's been at it for years.  Andy Warhol once described him as "Hieronymous Bosch  meets MTV."  Maybe Max Ernst meets MTV might be a better description of his current work, which melds surrealist imagery with the pop pulsations of alternative rock.  In his collaborations with Yseult, the same holds true, only more so.

Their Old Money, ( who bought Christy Kane?) feature the head of a dapper dude like a youthful Arthur Rimbaud wearing a Civil War-era State of Louisiana $100 bank note with eye holes like a mask.  He has painted red lips like vintage Mick Jagger and a flashy babe on his mind- well actually on his forehead- for there reclines a sultry blonde in a sun dress, framed up in butterfly wings.  Under Groucho Marx eyebrows, snow leopard blue eyes beam like lasers from his Confederate money mask, and it all conveys an uncanny mixture of glamour, sex and antiquity appropriate to someone ( St.Lewis) who once said he wanted to be an artist because of the freedom it bestowed. " A freedom known only to rock stars and Baptist preachers," he opined.

Windmills of Desire is similar, a trendy female head with classical Egyptian ornamental embellishment that turns out to be little blue pills rather than lapis.  A fantastical flying machine is superimposed on her face, a mask of multiple mythologies.  Tears of the Magdelaine is kind of a pop art portrait of the "other" mary, a sultry babe with Christ on her mind, actually a Byzantine Jesus on her forehead.  There are also larger pieces by both artists, and it's all refreshingly unpretentsious, great fun and very very well done.  Hopefully they'll do it again sometimes soon.  These two stellar talents are just the wake up call the New Orleans art scene needs.