“Blueprints for Change”, The Times-Picayune


Allison Stewart paints the intersection of land development and environmental preservation

Pass #4

Artists are like movie stars; they all seem to have some political cause or the other. Well-known Crescent City artist Allison Stewart’s cause is ecological.

Symbolically speaking, Stewart, whose exhibit “Crosscurrents” is on display at Arthur Roger Gallery, undoes some of the damage mankind has inflicted on the environment. She begins each of her paintings by wall-papering a large canvas with a layer of architectural plans or oil field maps — things that suggest man’s encroachment on the land. Then she paints over the plans and maps with loose, expressive renderings of weeds, wildflowers and flowing water — the sorts of things that she feels are rapidly disappearing from the world around her.

“There has to be an awareness of what we do when we alter the landscape,” Stewart said. “In the past, no one really cared if the swamp was there or not; now I think the damage is irreversible.”

We usually pay attention to a celebrity’s comments on a cause because we also admire their talent. Likewise, the reason we”re talking about Stewart”s ecological concerns here is because she can paint.

Boy can she paint. The big, bold canvases in the gallery front room are stunners. Stewart perfectly balances syrupy swirls of impasto with patches of runny, water-thin wash. She balances can’t-miss-it calligraphic designs with lots of vague drips, runs and feathery brush strokes. She balances luminous cobalt blue, ruby red and grape jelly purple with subtle smoke gray, rust-stain orange and bayou-water olive. And her compositions have never been better. Look at the daring, almost-off-balanced design of “Drift” and the tangled, almost-out-of-control pattern of “Pass #4.”

Stewart is gambling more than ever — and winning every bet. Sincerity and social involvement are admirable. Really, really good painting is why you should catch “Crosscurrents” before it closes Saturday at 5.