By D. Eric Bookhardt, via bestofneworleans.com
As his global fame has grown, local artist Douglas Bourgeois’ paintings have entranced many art lovers while leaving some baffled. How can such diverse subjects look so at home in the same canvas? He once told an interviewer, “To me, a heart-shattering soul song is as transcendent as a Giotto fresco or an Emily Dickinson or William Blake poem.” This probably reflects his roots in a region where Fats Domino is as revered as Pope Francis. A native of the rural Louisiana town of St. Amant, Bourgeois embodies how our melting pot regional culture embraced diverse ingredients and combined them into joyous new hybrids like jazz and Creole cuisine.
Delirious contrasts abound in dreamily haunting paintings such as Our Lady of the Monster Beats, in which a Creole woman with uplifted arms and a tattooed rural white man with a karaoke mic stand by a pyramid of boom boxes at an abandoned gas station. Both have shimmering halos like Renaissance saints in an otherwise squalid scene of bucolic decrepitude transformed by an eerie, ecstatic aura. In Solomon and the Angels, soul singer Solomon Burke appears in a round icon painting amid seraphic soul sisters and songbirds. In The Ghost of Her Twin, a young woman with coiled auburn locks and ivory skin faces her near-double with ebony locks and cafe-au-lait skin, a lingering afterimage of our famously mutable racial history. Psychic complexity defines Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown (pictured), where a young diva with a flaming Sacred Heart appears amid moths, vintage light bulbs, neon and gems radiating a mysterious glow. While some equate Bourgeois with multiculturalism, what his vision really reflects is “Creolization” — the way we, despite discord and strife, have ultimately found joy in the food, music and visual art of every ethnicity that makes up our regional cultural gumbo. This Spirit in the Dark show embodies his sense of “an electric connection to infinity and beauty,” his mystic poet’s gift for seeing the sublime within the ordinary.