Sometimes the attorneys in the next building will walk in, take a seat and get lost in the paintings.
Saliha Staib understands. She finds peace in her studio, and she sometimes gets lost in the cotton paintings.
They’re the pieces she’s showing in the exhibit Mon Doux Coton: Paintings by Saliha Staib in the Alfred C. Glassell Jr. Exhibition Gallery. All are large, all are inspired by Louisiana’s acres of cotton fields. Each is a separate world that soothes the soul.
So, it’s only natural that the attorneys in Oscar L. Schoenfelt’s office find solace in Staib’s work.
“We all have a need for peace, especially today, when so there is so much turmoil in the world,” Staib said. “These paintings are very soft.”
They’re also calm and quiet, and visitors to Glassell surely will feel as if they’re walking among clouds when viewing Staib’s show.
She sits on the sofa in the back of her studio on this particular day. The space once was a garage behind Schoenfelt’s Garden District office on Perkins Road. It’s clean, and its walls have been painted white, which makes the natural light shining through the windows even brighter.
“I’m so lucky to have a studio here,” Staib said. “I love looking out at this neighborhood and at the trees.”
“And peaceful,” Staib said.
She stands, then walks to the center of the studio. Two paintings in her cotton series have been placed on easels, the pair dominating the room.
Other pieces in the series lean against walls, some in warm colors, others in cooler blues and grays.
And the sizes of these pieces would almost be overwhelming if they weren’t so, well, peaceful. That’s a running theme. These paintings create the kind of world that you don’t want to get lost in - they’re places you’d like to live in for awhile.
Louisiana’s landscapes have inspired Staib in her 10 years in the state, a residency that was supposed to last only three years.
“We came here for my husband’s job,” she said. “But it’s OK. I really like it here.”
She also liked the scene of cotton fields when she first saw them. She liked how they made her feel. So, she painted that feeling on canvas, layering light colors on top of dark to create a misty, dreamlike state where abstract cotton bolls emerge, then fade into the background.
Mon Doux Coton contrasts Staib’s other ongoing series, Mosaic and Patchwork Symphony, whose small, symmetrical squares and rectangles fill the canvas in thick layers of black and white, even red.
Two of these works hang in a corner of her studio, generating a feeling of everyday life, where everyone is on a schedule and deadlines must be met.
None of the paintings from this series will be shown in the Glassell exhibit, but it’s still interesting to note how Staib has created opposite worlds in her studio space.
For now, it’s the world of cotton that draws the attorneys.
“Visual experience is our most pervasive and reliable source of information about the world we inhabit,” Staib writes in her artist’s statement. “Through sight we effortlessly navigate the comforting territory of our homes and neighborhoods, recognize our family and friends, do our shopping in the morning and admire the moon and stars at night.”
But, she continues, “vision is also our most common source of error, confusion and uncertainty.”
“The visible world, as Plato observed, is never quite what it seems, even at its best, it delivers only the appearance of reality, never the thing itself,” she writes.
Staib’s Mon Doux Coton, which is French for My Soft Cotton, explores the secrets of what is seen and unseen by the eye.
The series, she writes, illustrates “the tension between how things look and how they are or might be.”
Looking now at the series’ title, it’s significant to note that Staib didn’t express it in French simply because she lives in Louisiana. Her choice of words also was based upon her background. Staib was born in France, educated in Europe and came to Baton Rouge in 1999. She began painting at age 14 and started painting professionally at age 22.
Her abstract expressionistic paintings have since sold to collectors throughout the country.
“It takes courage,” Staib said of her work. “You’re exhibiting yourself.”
There’s so much truth in that statement, but it’s not totally accurate, not when considering the effect Staib’s work has on its viewers. Staib may be expressing herself, but it’s clear that her painting are generating true feelings and emotions in those who see them. In that way, their worlds become part of hers.
Sometimes it happens in a gallery; other times it happens when they take a break from work to visit her studio.
To find peace in the cotton.