As an expression of lived experience, all art is a form of autobiography.
In Wayne Amedee’s show of new work at Octavia Gallery, however, that autobiographical self-expression has taken an even more intimate turn.
“My work always has a hint of the autobiographical,” he said. “But many times it is a lot more so, as in this current body of work.”
In a career spanning over four decades, Amedee’s work has been shown extensively both locally and nationwide.
And as befits an artist who was recently named 2014 Artist of the Year by the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development, New Orleans has always been an integral part of his creative process.
“While I like to think of my work as general in nature, there is no doubt that the color of New Orleans influences my work a lot,” he said. “The sights and sounds and celebratory events come out many times in a visual manner.”
Take what is probably Amedee’s best known work in New Orleans: the colorful and instantly recognizable welded aluminum sculpture titled “Grateful Labors” in City Park on the lawn between Lelong Avenue and the Big Lake. Covered in red and green automotive paint, the work was unveiled in the fall of 2009 as a tribute to Hurricane Katrina responders.
Amedee generally has characterized his work as non-representational. But it’s hard not to view “Grateful Labors” as a sort of joyously cockeyed and welcoming triumphal arch, and Amedee himself said that the red and green represent the lurching, off-and-on progress of recovery that characterized the city in the years following the storm.
Similarly, there’s a lot more going on in his new exhibition of work at the Octavia Gallery than the mostly abstract forms and “non-representational” label might lead you to expect.
In this, his second solo exhibition at the gallery, Amedee presents work from three separate but conceptually related series. While each is formally distinct, they all share a common narrative through line: the death last year of Amedee’s wife Barbara after 43 years of marriage.
Amedee’s “Consolations” series, which incorporate the artist’s signature wedge-shaped forms in materials including bronze, aluminum and cedar, are meant to serve as reminders (or consolations) of the artist’s many happy years with his wife.
Ranging in scale from the intimate to the totemic (some of the aluminum ones are over 10 feet high), the sculptures, with their intricately balanced stacks of discrete objects, communicate both the solidity of a shared life together as well as the often tenuous nature of life itself.
But it’s the “Chrysalis” series that may have the most emotional and poignant resonance for many viewers.
Created from fragments of handwritten notes and pieces of colored foil that Amedee’s wife collected and which he discovered after her death, the “Chrysalis” pieces are abstract collages exploring very tangible concepts of memory, love, and loss.
Elsewhere in the show, Amedee’s “Selvedge/Microcosm” series is a collection of digital prints representing the paint remnants in his studio after the production of his painted two-dimensional works. “They nod to something else happening outside of an area of focus that has already passed,” he explained.
Despite their very specific and tactile origins, the “Selvedge/Microcosm” images have an ethereal, abstract quality, suggesting that the memories of the things we experience aren’t always as objective as we often assume them to be.
With all of the autobiographical components that infuse his current work, Amedee is careful to preserve an element of indeterminacy in the objects he creates in order for the viewer to bring their own interpretations to them.
“I enjoy a bit of the mysterious in my work,” he said. “That always makes it more interesting.”
And in sharing deeply personal experiences through the new work at Octavia, Amedee hopes that viewers also will recognize some common themes that everyone can relate to.
“It explores universal notions,” he said. “Memory, the passage of time, and the ephemeral nature of life.”