After a long absence from the New Orleans gallery scene, Louis St. Lewis, the acclaimed pop art provocateur of Raleigh, North Carolina, and former "court painter” to the late King Kigeli V of Rwanda, has returned to the city he cites as an inspiration.
King Kigeli died in exile in Washington D.C., but his portraitist, St. Lewis, lives on, producing flamboyant mixed-media works that meld glitter rock flash and dazzle and his theatrical regard for the past.
Here his flair for colorful incandescence is complemented by the virtuosic use of neon by his collaborator, Raleigh-based mixed-media artist Nate Sheaffer. Influences ranging from glam rock to mythology and world history can be seen in “Ashes to Ashes,” in which David Bowie appears in a neon suit clutching a glowing neon heart. Next to him stands the figure of Death in the form of a skull wearing a Napoleonic bicorn hat and a regal frock coat topped off with angel wings. Bowie's brooding, perplexed visage bears traces of face paint from his “Ziggy Stardust” days as he and Death confront the viewer as the ultimate odd couple.
At a time when daily political news can be exhausting, this extravagant show of high-end eye candy is almost like a visual mini-vacation.
St. Lewis' sometimes campy and always Carnivalesque vision has found a following in Louisiana, where his work appears in numerous private and museum collections. His flair for local popular culture turns up in a number of works including his portrait of Big Freedia as Medusa, as well as in “Algiers Angel,” where a seductive West Bank siren sports a spiky neon halo set off by a glowing neon vortex.
In “Absinthe,” the “green fairy” of cocktails appears as a shimmering neon labyrinth. Another work where Sheaffer's glass mastery shines brightly is “Phrenology” (pictured). Here the old pseudo-science of the human skull is depicted as a neon map of brain regions, most labeled “Me.”
It is a comment on our times as well as a glowing example of St. Lewis and Shaeffer's flair for turning so many defining facets of cultural history and modern life into provocatively flashy visual spectacles.
Through June 29. Martine Chaisson Gallery, 727 Camp St., (504) 302-7942.
The expo opens Friday with a performance of the original work “Black Magic” by local dancers/choreographers Donna Crump and Edward Spots and young performers from Dancing Grounds.
At Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, Japanese painter Akihiko Sugiura explores a magical world of the fluid energy fields that he regards as the inner essence of what most of us see as the “real world.”