Step right up, ladies and gentlemen.
There’s only one week left to witness the marvels of the carnival and its amazing sideshows inside Baton Rouge Gallery.
See the amazing spectrum of birds who inhabit Leanne McClurg Cambric’s world of Fable. Witness Scott Finch’s transformation from painting to the graphic novel in his show Transformation.
Interject your own narrative into Preston Gilchrist’s work in Approximations.
And enter, if you dare, Charles Barbier’s world of Carnival, where shows and rides are both playful and haunting, as familiar faces emerge as reminders of what’s happening in the world.
For the word really is a carnival, isn’t it? A nonstop show in the political arena, where the economy, social issues, pop culture and war are its sideshows.
But the carnival also offers other attractions, where people are brought together by common interests, whether it be family and friends, patriotism or the star-power of a Super Bowl-winning NFL team.
That team, of course, being the New Orleans Saints.
Barbier created this painting alongside fellow artist Paul Neff. The duo took about a year and a half to complete it.
The painting definitely is a popular eye-catcher upon entering his show. Its images of Saints players past and present, Saintsations dancing in the center and cheering fans are almost iconic in nature.
The images are arranged as if they’re in a stained glass window, which is fitting, considering the football team’s choice as “Saints” for its mascot combined with its home city’s strong Catholic tradition.
Still, this painting dominated by black and gold is different from the rest in Barbier’s show. The carnival has been an ongoing theme in his work in the last few years, a setting in which he can comment on life, the world and its happenings.
Barbier’s pieces in this show are large and filled with what has become somewhat of a trademark in his work - bright, florescent color. It’s in this setting where viewers will recognize commentary on events from the past year.
There are twin oil towers in one, representing the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Women are the main characters in other paintings, emphasizing Barbier’s running theme of “Girl Power.”
And then there’s the lighter side, where FestForAll is the carnival’s setting.
“The carnival is a way to comment on social issues, politics, pop culture, war and history and still be colorful,” Barbier said.
But the walk through Barbier’s carnival ends on a curious note.
The final stop in his exhibit ends with a single character standing in the bottom of a deep, empty swimming pool.
The carnival continues, but it stands in the distance on the edge of the pool. And the lone figure bids it farewell.
This the bright hues seep away from this picture, leaving behind blues, blacks and whites. The lone figure bears Barbier’s likeness.
“It shows me moving into deep space,” he said. “That’s my next theme.”
And who knows what deep space will bring? The possibilities, like space, itself, are infinite.
This thought has to be exciting for Barbier, who was a self-taught artist for 15 years before receiving instruction and earning his master of fine arts degree from LSU.
Barbier cites his experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War as a strengthening factor in his artistic development and employs complex compositions that invite interpretation in his tackling of controversial subjects and themes.
But never forget that those themes many times are served up with a dose of humor.
And maybe that humor can be found in referencing Barbier’s fellow artists’ September exhibits as sideshows to his carnival. The reference surely isn’t meant to disparage the other works here.
It’s just that Barbier’s seems to have set both a festive and exciting theme in September, and each of the accompanying shows offers its own attractions. And these shows add to the excitement with their own festive themes.
Take Cambric’s show Fable, for instance. Her work represents a type of transformation here. All of her ceramic pieces are - and always have been - functional. But the function in this case takes on a different theme.
Animals have always been a running theme in Cambric’s work, their figures either taking the form or painted on bowls and trays in bright colors. This time, though, vases take the spotlight.
Now don’t misunderstand. Not all of the pieces here are vases. Some are bowl-shaped pieces. One, in particular, is warmly wrapped in the figure of a rabbit.
But vases in the forms of birds stand in the spotlight of this show, inspired by the invention of a new game with her toddler son.
Cambric and her son often rest together on a hammock, eyes fixed on the sky, waiting for birds to pass. Each time one flies by, she and her son yell, “Bird!”
Cambric writes in her artist’s statement that as a toddler unaware of his mother’s connection to birds, the parts of her life laced together by them, her son seems very aware that she is not only teaching him observation but also a “weighted importance in the presence and fable of birds.”
This fable is the basis of the vases, bowls, cups and other ceramic works included in the exhibition.
“Every piece has a function,” Cambric said. “But these pieces prove more than just functional. Vases are about celebration, beauty, remembrance. The picked flower blooms and dies. They are a reminder of the preciousness of life. They allow us a space to share our experience as human.”
Cambric grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. She received her bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1997 and her master of Fine Arts from LSU in 2002.
Connecting Cambric’s work in the front gallery to that of Barbier’s Carnival in the back gallery is artist member Preston Gilchrist’s show Approximations in the small hallway gallery.
Gilchrist’s encaustic paintings feature familiar images of ballerina dancers and ladies from sewing patterns to explore commonalities shared by all.
“The ideas behind the images deal with everyday circumstances and our responses to these circumstances,” Gilchrist writes in his artist’s statement. “I have always enjoyed the process of creating an object.”
The objects here are created from wax.
“Object becomes dialogue, interaction and exchange,” Gilchrist continues.
In the end, Gilchrist seeks to have viewers interject their own experiences and personal narratives into these stories, creating a more complex and intertwined tale with each retelling.
Gilchrist studied at LSU in Alexandria and received degrees in art from the University of New Orleans, Northwestern State University in Natchitoches and Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.
Finally, there’s the show created by Scott Finch, which, like Barbier’s, symbolizes transition.
That transition can be found in the subjects of his paintings in the front gallery and in panels from the graphic novel he is creating that hang in the back gallery alongside Barbier’s works.
In fact, the panels hang not far from Barbier’s deep space painting that bids farewell to the carnival. These two shows are so different in nature, yet share a kinship in change.
Finch’s graphic novel focuses on the Gnostic early church. He developed the idea after a residency last fall at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, where he spent long, uninterrupted days in a studio surrounded by authors, musicians and other visual artists.
This is where Finch began focusing on two seemingly unrelated symbolic images - the sleeping yo-yo and the sacred threshold.
“My son does yo-yo tricks,” Finch said. “There’s one where the yo-yo seems stuck, but it’s moving.”
Finch found this to be an interesting metaphor for his work. Finch came to see the sleeping yo-yo, spinning at top speed but seemingly resting as a surrogate, for his dormant creativity.
The sacred threshold, meantime, emerged as an image of the liminal passage between one world and another.
Finch created three new paintings upon returning to Baton Rouge, all inspired by the spring and cleansing renewal of Chinese New Year.
Then came the graphic novel, a project that returned Finch to his elementary school days, when he used to draw comic strips.
There was something liberating about this medium, a freedom with which he could go any direction.
And this freedom has led him to a story about a girl with nothing to wear and the universe she throws away. The result is a 23-chapter project with more than a 1,000 panels.
Finch received his master’s degree in fine arts in painting and drawing from The Tyler School of Art at Temple University in 1996.
His work combines with that of his fellow artists in creating this September carnival of the world at Baton Rouge Gallery.